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Friday, September 30, 2011

Bob's Books - 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes (Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library) - Vincent Starrett

A hit-and-miss collection that has some nice elements but is not one of my favorites.

One of the books in Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library, a reissue of eight previously hard to find classics from the earlier age of Sherlockiana, it was originally published in 1940. Unlike The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which was an original composition, Starrett served as editor of this collection of Sherlockiana, contributing only one piece; a pastiche entitled The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet.

221B contains fifteen essays and a crossword puzzle. It starts off with The Field Bazaar, a scene written by Doyle for the Edinburgh University newspaper. It consists of an episode in which Holmes seemingly reads Watson’s mind, then explains how he did it. One suspects that it was not widely available in 1940.

Was Sherlock Holmes an American?, BSI founder Christopher Morley’s heretical supposition that the world’s first consulting detective was really born on the western side of the Atlantic ocean, follows.
R.K. Leavitt’s Nummi in Arca looks at Holmes’ fiscal situation over the years and is an interesting topic for exploration. Elmer Davis and Jane Nightwork each contribute articles about the role of matrimony in Dr. Watson’s life.

P.M. Stone writes about a reporter’s visit to an aging Holmes in Sussex Interview. I enjoyed this little piece.

Starrett’s The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet is frequently listed near the top of pastiche rankings. I have never understood this. Near the end of the story (which I don’t wish to give away) Holmes explains to the villain how the trail he took between the two houses gave him away. Unless I’m missing something, this leaves a hole that you could drive a truck through and quashes the redeeming qualities of the tale. I can’t imagine how this is considered one of the best non-Doyle Holmes adventures.

Sherlock Holmes in Pictures is a nice reminiscence by the great Frederic Dorr Steele himself and worthy of inclusion in more collections. Edgar Smith’s Appointment in Baker Street is an early dramatis personae from the Canon. Remember; this was long before Holmes encyclopedias by Orlando Park, Jack Tracy and Matthew Bunsen. At 101 pages, it is also far and away the longest piece of the book.

There are a few other chapters as well. There are some good reads in 221B: Studies in Sherlock, but it is a mixed bag and not on the same level as Starrett’s Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bob's Books - Conan the Defiant by Steve Perry

Though many of his stories have grave warts, I think that Robert E. Howard was an amazing writer: specifically in all but creating the sword and sorcery genre. Some of the Conan tales are simply outstanding. There have been dozens of pastiches (Conan tales by other authors) of varying quality. (note to self: poke fun at fellow Sherlockian attitudes toward pastiches. They'd have conniption fits if Holmes was treated like Conan has been).

Tor #13/1987
Second of the five novels that Steve Perry wrote in the fifty-book Tor Series. In William Galen Gray’s chronology it is the fourth Conan tale (following Conan of Venarium, Legions of the Dead and The Thing in the Crypt), taking place before Sean Moore’s Conan the Hunter.
The young Conan comes upon a lone priest being waylaid by five bandits. Impressed with the stranger’s skill with a wooden staff, the Cimmerian wades in and helps the man dispatch his opponents. Cengh, a priest of the Suddah Oblates, is later murdered, sending Conan on a quest of justice for his short-time friend.
In typical Conan fashion, he beds Elashi, a desert-bred warrior maiden as well as Tuanne, a beautiful zombie. Yep, a zombie. Being the irresistable stud he is, the trio engage in threesomes all along their trek to the bad guy’s castle. More adolescent fantasies in a Conan book here.

Neg the Malefic is a necromancer who needs a gem called The Source of Light to raise and unleash a horde of undead minions to conquer the world. Both Conan’s and Elisha’s quests are a result of Neg’s machinations, even though the evil spellcaster has no idea who they are.

There is no shortage of foes in this tale, with undead, the Men with No Eyes, Neg’s lackey, the Suddah Oblates, agents in the employ of The One With No Name and an ensorcelled pack of spiders providing more than enough bad guys at every step of the way. With so many enemies to deal with,

it is surprising how often Conan finds time to have sex with his two travelling partners.
The story, which is rather linear, is an okay read. There is enough tension throughout, with the time element constantly in play and moving things along. The final confrontation with Neg is a bit of a let down and I had to read it a second time, as it didn’t quite make sense on the first try. I’m still not sure it did the second time, either.

Conan the Defiant is worth reading for fans of the muscle-bound sword swinger. On its own merits, it is not a bad heroic sorcery tale. You’ve got fighting, hot women, zombies and an evil sorceror bent on world domination.

Friday, September 16, 2011

How George Raft Made Humphrey Bogart a Star - Part II

The careers of Bogart and Raft would be inextricably linked for the next three years and by 1943, Bogart was the biggest star in Hollywood and Raft was reduced to making a movie that attempted to copy the success of a Bogart film.

In 1939, Raft and Bogart made a forgettable film called Invisible Stripes. Released from prison, Raft goes on the straight and narrow while Bogart falls back into his bad habits. Circumstances force Raft to resume a life of crime but he manages to quit the gang and both Raft and Bogart are gunned down by other mobsters near the film’s end. It was one of seven (yes, seven) films Bogart made that year. He was shot to death in four of them (King of the Underworld, The Oklahoma Kid, The Roaring Twenties and Invisible Stripes); sentenced to be electrocuted in another (You Can’t Get Away Wirth Murder) and shot down after having been electrocuted and raised from the dead in another (The Return of Doctor X). He wasn’t exactly getting star quality parts.

Ironically enough, though he had only a minor part in Dark Victory, Bogie received good reviews for the one role when he was allowed to live. Bette Davis, star of Dark Victory, made six films with Bogart but strongly disliked him.

While Raft had star billing in Invisible Stripes, the number two male spot went to William Holden, with Bogart one slot below him. Bogart was annoyed, as this was only Holden’s second credited role, while it was Bogart’s thirty-second. It’s possible that this bad feeling in 1939 was at the root of their dislike for each other during the filming of Sabrina some fifteen years later.

Bogart Bit: Director Sam Spiegel wanted Bogart to play an American commando in the Oscar winning Bridge on the River Kwai, but Bogie was already committed to The Harder They Fall. The part went to Holden, instead.

In 1940, Raft would star in They Drive By Night, with Bogart playing his brother in this trucker film. Third-billed Ida Lupino turned out to be the star of the movie, breaking down in a memorable courtroom scene late in the film. Bogart was billed number four, with Ann Sheridan holding down the second spot. That same year, Raft turned down the lead in a gangster comedy called It All Came True and Bogart took the part. It wasn’t a very memorable film: just one of the seventeen he made from 1938 through 1940. Bogart was again billed below Ann Sheridan (she was the star; he was third bill).

Humphrey Bogart had worked in thirty-seven films in the previous eleven years, but it was in 1941 that Raft inadvertently made him a star. Back in 1938, a young John Huston had co-written the script to The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, starring Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor. Bogie had third billing as gangster Rocks Valentine (poisoned by Robinson in this appearance). In 1941, Huston worked with author W.R. Burnett on the screenplay for the latter’s novel, High Sierra. Raft turned down the movie, saying he didn’t want to play a gangster. Also, he didn’t like the fact that Roy Earle died at the end of the film. With that decision, Raft’s short stay at Warners began its decline and Bogart was starting to climb out of B movie purgatory.

The original Scarface
After Raft declined the part, the studio turned to Paul Muni. Muni had not made a film at Warners since 1937 and was fighting with the studio. Jack Warner seemed to be constantly battling his stars. Muni followed Raft and turned down the role. As it turns out, he had already made his last movie at Warner Brothers.

While Raft and Muni definitely refused the part, rumor has it that Cagney and Robinson also said no. With four of Warner’s top stars crossed off, Bogart was cast opposite Ida Lupino, who got top billing. There is speculation that Bogart was originally to receive the top spot but his recent brush with the House Un-American Activities Committee resulted in Lupino getting top billing instead. While Jack Warner certainly wouldn’t hesitate at such a move, Lupino was a hotter commodity after her turn in They Drive By Night and probably had more potential to move the film than Bogart at this stage in his career.

Regardless, Bogart received rave reviews as the criminal with a tender side. Critics and fans loved him and he enjoyed his biggest success since The Petrified Forest. Raft had blown a chance to star in a hit film. Something he would certainly regret as his career regressed.

Raft made only one movie in 1941, Manpower, costarring with Bogart and Marlene Dietrich. Raft wasn’t happy with Bogart and had him removed from the film just after shooting started. Bogart was upset but was not reinstated to the film. Edward G. Robinson replaced Bogie and the mild-mannered star ended up in a fight with Raft. The movie was mediocre. Raft was 0 for 2.

Edward G. Robinson helped create the Hollywood gangster as Rico in 1931’s Little Caesar. He played his last mobster, (Johnny) Rocco, in 1948’s Key Largo. In between, he had starred in Bullets or Ballots, Kid Galahad, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse and Brother Orchid, killing Bogart in all four of them. His success waned in the fifties but he had a final hurrah opposite Steve McQueen in 1965’s The Cincinnati Kid.

 Bogart, upset at losing Manpower, was even more upset when he was sent the script for Bad Men Of Missouri. He was to star as the eldest of the three Younger brothers, with Wayne Morris (who was actually billed above Bogart in Men Are Such Fools and The Return of Doctor X but featured below Bogie in China Clipper and Kid Galahad) and Arthur Kennedy (fresh off High Sierra, his second film). The female lead was played by future Oscar winner and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, Jane Wyman. Legend is that Bogart wrote “Are you kidding me?” on the script and sent it back to Jack Warner, who quickly suspended him. Dennis Morgan replaced Bogart in the lead.
Before Elvis Presley, Wayne Morris (left) was Kid Galahad
Bogie Bits: Not long before he died, Bogart said that he made more lousy pictures than any other actor in history. And though it usually wasn't his fault, he did make an awful lot of stinkers. There are several that could claim the title of most rotten tomato (I can't imagine myself ever watching Swing Your Lady a second time), but you'd have to work pretty  hard to top The Return of Dr. X.

Bogie is a scientist who had been executed. He is brought back from the dead and needs to kill people for their blood in lieu of the synthetic blood he was first using. Wayne Morris (see the tie-in here. Not a completely irrelevant jaunt) is the hero of the film.

This was Bogie's only science fiction/horror film and he has a skunk stripe in his hair. It is a classic bad B sci fi film from the era. He rarely talked about it as he considered this one of his worst movies. It was presented as a sequel to the successful Doctor X film, but the actual similarities ended at the title.

I don't give that bunny much of a chance...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Steelers 2011, 13-3 Season

Last year, the general consensus was that the Steelers needed to go 2-2 without Ben to have a chance at winning the division over the Ravens. They went 3-1 and ended up hosting the AFC title game. It's hard to find any media folks who think the Colts can even be .500 without Peyton: and there's no idea of when he will be able to play. The Steelers were set with Leftwich, Dixon and Batch. The Colts signed retired Kerry Collins, handed him the playbook and told him he'd be starting in a week. Again, it's great to root for a team run like the Steelers are.

Last year, coming off a non-playoff season, with Ben out for four games, a lot of folks figured it would be a down year for the Steelers. So, they almost won the Super Bowl. This team, while injury prone due to aging issues, is loaded on O and D and I think, along with New England, the best team in the NFL. So, I expect those two squads to meet in the AFC Championship game. Last year, the Steelers only scored more than 28 points three times en route to the Super Bowl. They could break that scoring level every single week this year. Except for the bye...

Roethlesbeger, Mendenhall, Redman, Ward, Wallace, Sanders, Brown, Cotchery and Miller can all make big plays. And even guys like David Johnson, Mewelde Moore and Jonathon Dwyer are dangerous. This is the best offense since the Bradshaw/Harris/Bleir/Swann/Stallworth days, And it might be even better.


L - at Baltimore
W - Seattle
W - at Indianapolis
L - at Houston
W - Tennessee
W - Jacksonville
W - at Arizona
L - New England
W - Baltimore
W - at Cincinnati
W - at Kansas City
W - Cincinnati
W - Cleveland
W - at San Francisco
W - St. Louis
W - Cleveland

Yep. I actually think they could be realistically favored in all 16 games. I expect Baltimore and NE to be playoff teams and give them nods over the Steelers, but I will not be at all surprised to see the Steelers win. I actually do expect them to beat Houston, but if the Texans win over Manningless-Indy in their opener, I think they're going to be on an early tear and should play just well enough at home to win as they lay the groundwork for their first ever playoff appearance, saving Gary Kubiak's job.

The Road Clunker should be San Francisco, but they are inept at QB and the Steelers would have to really screw up to lose that one. KC could be tough but I think they're going to regress a bit after last year's suprising playoff run.

The game to watch is at Arizona. If Kevin Kolb is as good as so many people think he is (though his limited PT so far hasn't indicated such is the case), they should be a playoff contender this year and that will be a tough road game. If he's the latest Scott Mitchell or AJ Feely, however, they're going to struggle to score and the Steelers should handle them.

While Cleveland is improving and the west coast offense should make Colt McCoy better, the Steelers finish the season with six of seven games against teams with losing records in 2011. Even an under achieving 4-4start (say... losses to Baltimore, Houston, Arizona and New England) could still very well result in a 12-4 or 11-5 finish.

Last year's SB appearance was nice. Anything less than the title should be a disappointment this year.