Saturday, October 27, 2012


Throughout most of the 70s the majority of television heroes were detectives. They monopolized evening television. Unlike the television shows of today the older actors were actually the star of the show, the younger actors played sidekicks. No, really! It’s true! It was rare to find a television star who didn’t hover between the 40s and a little shy of 70. Experience came with age. Older folks would smack you around like nobody’s business and if you condescended or patronized guys like McCloud or Barnaby Jones, they would probably kick your ass. I know. It’s hard to believe. It was a glorious time.

I'm Barnaby Jones, punk!
Another thing that was pretty awesome about these detective heroes of the 70s was that they actually looked like normal people. Darren McGavin was no pretty boy. Mannix was no teen idol. Nor did you see a whole lot of Telly Savalas pictorials in Tiger Beat. Ironside was a disabled detective but he was one wheelchair bound tough guy that few wanted to cross. These detective heroes looked like your father or grandfather, or a teacher or a mechanic or the owner of the local hardware store. Sometimes they even looked like your parents (McMillan & Wife anyone?) As a kid, I didn’t want to be like the 20 somethings. I wanted to be like the 40 and 50 somethings. They knew things. They’d been in wars, they’d been around and they commanded respect.

James Garner as Jim Rockford

The averageness of these detective heroes also made it easy to identify and sympathize with them. Whenever Jim Rockford punched a guy he would often break his hand. He would blow off work to go fishing with his dad who whole heartedly disapproved of his often dangerous profession. As a nerd who grew up dealing with his fair share of bullies in school, it was somewhat comforting to see a guy like Rockford who had no problem fighting dirty when the odds were against him. When Rockford got scared he had no problem admitting it and that was pretty damn cool. When he was outnumbered by the villains, Rockford would get the hell out of there and come back when the odds were in his favor. Most of the time he stood his ground and took a beating in order to protect an innocent or just because he‘d had enough of being pushed around.

William Conrad as Frank Cannon
Along with Jim Rockford there was another detective hero that, as a chubby nerd, I tended to identify with. His name was Frank Cannon. Cannon was fat. He had the face of a bulldog and the gruff voice to match. Even though he was overweight, he would chase after a bad guy for all he was worth. Unlike the fastidious and static Nero Wolfe(who Conrad would go on to play after his Cannon days were over), Cannon was a man of action. He often incapacitated his foes with a judo throw or karate chop to the neck or just a straightforward and rather devastating right cross to the jaw or gut. He would get beat up from time to time but always got up, dusted himself off and carried on, more determined than ever. He was self depreciating about his weight and approached people with a sense of humor, kindness and quiet strength. When he was bullied by hard headed cops or threatening villains, he faced them head on and threatened them right back. He was methodical, intelligent, cultured and underestimated (although not as often as you might think). Needless to say, I thought Cannon was awesome.

Cannon was played by the talented actor William Conrad. Conrad was a character actor in film, television and radio. He was the voice of the radio show “Marshall Matt Dillon” on Gunsmoke for almost a decade. He starred in many low budget 50s film noir, often cast as the corrupt cop or the villain. One of his more memorable jobs was as the energetic narrator of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. But it was as the rotund, tough, no nonsense detective Frank Cannon that Conrad found world wide stardom. Cannon ran from 1971 to 1976. During the 1973-74 season, Cannon was extremely popular, particularly in the UK. He even had his own comic strip segment in the British television fan magazine Countdown aka TV Action, a magazine that started out featuring comic strip versions of Gerry Anderson properties but eventually included many British action TV shows such as the Protectors, the Persuaders, Dr. Who and many American TV shows including Six Million Dollar Man, Hawaii 5-0, Mission Impossible and Cannon (drawn by the talented strip artist Martin Asbury).

Conrad with Diana Muldaur
I was reminded of Cannon this week when I happened to see The Return of Frank Cannon on cable TV. I was fairly excited to revisit this old favorite of mine yet hesitant that my fond memories would be tainted by quaint and dated writing. I was happy to find that Cannon still holds up in this surprisingly entertaining TV revival movie. It’s almost five years since he quit the investigating biz. Cannon has retired and opened up a fine dining restaurant where he even does the cooking from time to time. Cannon is visited by the daughter of an old friend to Cannon. A friend who has apparently committed suicide. The daughter refuses to believe that her father, a former CIA agent, has killed himself and implores Cannon to investigate. This opens some old wounds for Cannon who was once in love with the wife (television icon Diana Muldaur) of his old friend.

Almost immediately Cannon realizes that there has been a cover up. Investigating the crime scene, Cannon amusingly chews out the local police over their shoddy, lazy and unprofessional investigation. Naturally this sets up a rather antagonistic relationship with local law enforcement but Cannon doesn’t care. Like an angry bull, Cannon charges through all the resistance that comes his way. Along the way Cannon runs into red herrings, betrayals and a cabal of retired CIA agents, some of who miss the dangerous and duplicitous lifestyle and who go out of their way to prevent Cannon from finding out the truth about his friend. Through it all, Cannon is undeterred. In one scene, he walks in on a bunch of former CIA agents, the leader played by the always creepy William Smithers (aka “Jeremy Wendell”, villainous oil baron who was always trying to take over J.R. Ewings company in Dallas). Cannon faces down the group of agents and lets them know in no uncertain terms that he’s going to get to the bottom of things no matter what!

George Peppard as Banacek
This was an enjoyable little mystery. Like many of these 70s detective shows the plots are not inherently connected to the protagonist. You could easily replace Frank Cannon with Jim Rockford or Banacek or Columbo and not miss a beat. The enjoyment came from watching William Conrad’s performance as Cannon. As a kid, I liked seeing this chunky guy take on the baddies and enjoyed it just as much now as an adult. In school, the fat kids and the nerds were often the targets just as Cannon was often a target. But Cannon proved to the doubters and bullies who underestimated him that you could be overweight and still be intelligent, courageous, strong and sometimes even win the girl. Watching Cannon’s strength of character and belief in his own talents and abilities and accept who he was inside and out encouraged me to be more confident and courageous.

You don’t see a whole lot of guys like Frank Cannon around on television these days and that’s a shame. Cannon was a smart, formidable protagonist who might have been underestimated on occasion but was just as often recognized for his brains and tenacity. Today someone who looks like Cannon would most likely be the butt of a joke, or play an idiotic, beer guzzling sidekick to the good looking star. But in the 70s, guys like Cannon were the star, kicking ass, taking names and commanding the respect of friends and foes whether they be short, tall, thin or fat. In a world of yogurt eating spies and doctors with nicknames like “McSteamy”, watching a guy like Frank Cannon in action again was a nostalgic breath of fresh air.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Isle of Fury is based on the Somerset Maugham novel The Narrow Corner, but if you’re looking for a faithful adaptation of the Maugham book then you’ll definitely be disappointed. The only thing that Isle of Fury has in common with Narrow Corner is that both feature an island. That’s basically where the similarities end. Still, I kind of enjoyed this island adventure.

The film opens with Val (Bogart) trying to marry a somewhat pensive Lucille (Margaret Lindsay) on an island in the Pacific during a terrible storm. The wedding is interrupted (almost suspenseful so) several times and immediately after they are declared married, Val rushes off to help the passengers of a ship caught in the storm. The only people saved are the ships captain (Paul Graetz) and Eric (Donald Woods). Naturally, Eric is immediately attracted to Lucille. The islands resident doctor and dispenser of wisdom Dr. Hardy (E.E. Clive) suspects that there is more to Eric than just a shipwrecked stranger. And he’s right. Turns out, Eric has been searching for Val who is wanted for murder back in the states. Val has been living on the island and has built a pearl trading business that is struggling due to the sudden refusal of the islanders to go diving. Seems that several divers have gone pearl diving and have disappeared. The islanders suspect bad mojo.

Val, with Eric and Lucille in tow, tries to convince the islanders that they’re just acting like old women and that there is nothing to fear. To prove this, Val goes diving. Unfortunately for Val there is something to fear…a giant squid! The squid pulls Val down deep causing his airline to be disconnected. Eric dives to his rescue, kills the tentacled terror, allowing the natives to dive for pearls in relative safety. Now Eric and Val are even, both having saved the others life. Eric tries to convince Lucille to leave Val and return with him to the states, telling her that she’s too young to be stuck on the island. Lucille tells Eric that, even though she’s not in love with Val, she likes him and promised her dying mother that she would someday marry Val. We’re not really sure why her mother wanted Lucille to marry Val, but hey, a promise is a promise.

Meanwhile, Val has grown fond of Eric and invites him to be a full partner in his pearl business. Eric refuses, telling Val that he’s going to leave soon. While all this is going on, Dr. Hardy has somehow figured out who Eric is and what he’s doing there. He tells Eric that Val was wrongfully accused of murder which was why he fled to the island in the first place. Eric believes him but still loves Lucille. Dr. Hardy recites the cautionary tale of David and Bathsheba which gives Eric pause. Of course in the end it all comes out in the wash. Accusations are leveled, evil islanders try to steal Val’s pearls and several people end up dead.

This is early in Bogart’s career. So early in fact that he was still relatively new to being cast as the baddie in various James Cagney gangster films.  The studios still had him testing the waters and doing a variety of roles from lawyers to dashing, non cynical love interest to WW1 pilot. Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and other famous Bogie roles were still a ways off. E.E. Clive has a lot of fun with his role as the all seeing, all knowing, wisdom and bible story dispensing Doctor. Margaret Lindsay doesn’t do much other than look worried and then flashing a nervous smile to let us know she‘s just fine. Her final decision at the end seems highly at odds with the direction that the films narrative is pushing her. The entertainment comes from seeing Bogart early in his career and seeing him play a different kind of hero than we’re used to seeing him play. The story moves quickly but with a one hour run time, it doesn’t have much choice. Still, I love watching these early thirties gems and marveling at how expedient they were in their storytelling. A lot happens in this one hour film and most of it is pretty fun to watch.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


I haven’t been much of a fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy’s run on Captain Marvel. While I don’t think DeConnick’s writing is all that bad, I just don’t find it engaging enough for me to put this series on my pull list. But the writing is really the lesser of the two evils here. Frankly, I find Dexter Soy’s art off-putting to the Nth degree. Soy draws boxy figures that look to be inked with a magic marker. The movement of his characters and action is clumsy, awkward and not remotely fluid or organic. I think his style would be better suited to a character like Ghost Rider or Transformers. His art seems better suited for more non human, non organic characters.  Luckily, Captain Marvel #5 has the lovely, scrumptious artwork of Emma Rios.

  Rios did some terrific artwork for the recent Cloak and Dagger “Spider Island” mini series. She also worked on Patsy Walker: Hellcat a few years back. In Captain Marvel #5, Rios again shows that her talent continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Rios art is a wonderful mix of Gene Colan with dashes of Toulouse Lautrec. Rios gives us several scenes in an airforce bar that immediately made me think of such Lautrec paintings as “At The Moulin Rouge” and “Two Women Waltzing”. There is also a lovely scene of Carol flying with Helen in tow and a few night images that were evocative of Colan’s stylistic work on Tomb of Dracula.

Since I haven’t been reading this series I was just a bit lost on the plot. Apparently Captain Marvel aka Carol Danvers has been zapped back in time to the 60’s where a pilot named Helen Cobb has sold an alien artifact in return for a chance to prove her stuff at a NASA flight training program for women. But now the training program has been canceled and an angry Helen, feeling cheated, intends to steal back the artifact. But unknown to Helen, the piece of alien technology is part of a Kree alien device that gave Carol Danvers her powers. It’s a fun story and the cliffhanger had me wondering if I could overcome my aversion to Dexter Soy long enough to find out what happens next issue. I’m hoping that Rios will stay on for a couple more issues.
The cover art by Terry and Rachel Dodson is terrific as is always the case with the Dodsons. The issue is not very “new reader” friendly which I found surprising given that this is a new series and we’re only on issue 5, and taking into account all the rumor mongering about Carol Danvers possibly turning up in one of the Avengers/Marvel Movieverse films. The opening page doesn’t give us any idea how Carol was sent back in time or why. A first time reader would also be a bit confused about who is exactly the star of this book for its first 2 thirds. I was far more engaged with Helen than I was with Carol and I’ve been a fan of Carol Danvers since her debut as Ms. Marvel nearly 35 years ago. So I think DeConnick still has much to do with regards to defining Carol. That said, I enjoyed this issue, the time travel elements and the scrumptious Rios art. Captain Marvel #5 is well worth purchasing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I am a big fan of Richard Dix. I first became aware of him around five years ago when I first watched the 1931 academy award winning mega-hit Cimarron. While I wasn’t wowed by his performance in that particular film, Dix completely won me over with amazing performances in films such as The Conquerors, Ghost Ship and It Happened In Hollywood. Dix had a wonderful combination of average joe charm and leading man confidence and could switch from kind sensitivity to frightening intensity at the flick of a switch. In Lovin’ The Ladies (1930), Richard Dix shows us that he is also pretty good at romantic comedy. A genre that I hadn’t as yet seen him sink his teeth into.

Allen Kearns plays a millionaire who is sick of his detached, bored, stagnant life of luxury. He craves mental stimulation but isn’t getting it from his mentally stagnant friends. He realizes that even his butler (Anthony Bushell) is smarter than he is. As is the electrician (Richard Dix) they call when the power goes out one evening while Kearns is entertaining friends. Kearns shares his thoughts on how love doesn’t really exist and how it‘s a crafted environment conducive to romance that “causes“ people to think they‘re in love. To prove his theory, he makes a wager that he can make any two people fall in love. They pick one of their snooty friends as the woman and Dix as the man. Dix is a passionate and educated union man. He is friends with Bushell and the two commiserate about how education and culture are actually liabilities to a working man.

Kearns offers Dix 25 hundred dollars to woo the woman they have chosen (Renee Macready) for the bet. Kearns gives Dix a makeover and teaches him how to be disaffected and bored with everything. But while Kearns is setting up events to win the bet, Dix falls for Kearns fiancĂ©e (Lois Wilson) and his feelings are reciprocated. When the evening finally comes for Kearns to arrange for Dix to woo Macready, all of Kearns meticulous plans come hilariously unraveled. Meanwhile, Dix must pretend to be the bored playboy for Macready and act his normal, down to earth average joe self for Wilson. The fun comes when various women accidentally fall prey to Kearns “stage of romance” and all fall in love with Dix. Except of course the intended prey Macready who has fallen for the Butler. Of course at the end, Kearns wager is brought to light and all must answer for their actions.

This movie was a lot of fun. Dix looks like he’s enjoying the role and even manages to pull off a sort of Jimmy Stewart “aw shucks” demeanor at times. I liked the conversations about the burden of intelligence and how the idle rich become idiots from being idle. One of the funniest lines goes to the Butler who, upon seeing his friend Dix after the makeover, tells him “Amazing! If I didn’t know you were an educated man I would swear you were wealthy!” Lovin’ The Ladies is one of those charming little 70 minute diversions.

Blind Alibi (1938) was a relatively entertaining (if ridiculous) Dix film. In this one, Dix is a sculptor living in Paris. Dix’s sister (Frances Mercer) is married to a high level politician. Mercer is being blackmailed over compromising letters she wrote to a former lover. Dix and a pal try to rob the blackmailers. Dix’s friend gets the letters but is shot by the blackmailers. He manages to hide the letters in a piece of furniture by an antique store. But before either Dix or the blackmailers can get to the antique chair, it’s crated and sent to a Los Angeles museum as part of a collection to be displayed. Dix makes it to LA but finds that the furniture display is sealed off from the public and is nearly impossible to get to. So Dix buys himself a seeing eye dog (Ace the Wonder Dog) and pretends to be a blind man who wants to examine various sculpture in order to make reproductions for sale to museum patrons. The museum curator (Whitney Bourne) gives Dix free reign at the museum and the two begin to fall for each other.

Meanwhile, the blackmailers are also aware that the chair is in the museum. They’ve sent in flunkies pretending to be janitors but all have failed. So they decide to bribe blind man Dix into looking for the letters. The police have also become involved. In the end, Dix finds the letters but the blackmailers have discovered that Dix isn’t blind, as have the police. Dix is able to get the drop on the blackmailers who are capture by the police, but Dix is also arrested for breaking into the museum. Since nothing is missing except for the letters that know one knows about, Dix serves a light sentence and after he is released, finds Ace and the cute curator waiting for him.

Richard Dix and Fay Wray in "It Happened In Hollywood"
Blind Alibi was fun in spite of a silly and preposterous plot. The best scenes involve Dix faking his blindness and trying to make sure his secret isn’t’ discovered. This involves putting a lot of faith in Ace. One scene, Dix knows he’s being watched and walks straight for an empty elevator shaft, hoping that wonder dog Ace will save him in time. Dix, as always, makes this silliness very watchable. I can’t recommend seeking these out for purchase unless you’re a rabid Richard Dix fan. Of the two films only Lovin’ The Ladies is available for purchase. But keep a sharp eye on TCM’s programming schedule and no doubt you’ll see these two films as well as other Richard Dix films turn up occasionally.


Full disclosure. I’m not a big “Vampire” guy. Unless, of course, we’re talking the 1931 Browning/Legosi “Dracula”. Although I did kind of like the original Fright Night films. But Vampires nowadays just don’t do it for me. I don’t care for Buffy or Bella. Furthermore, when it comes to horror comics, I rarely find them effective. I mean, I don’t even read (or watch) Walking Dead (gasp!). I know, I know. A shocking admission to be sure. So it was very surprising, refreshing and somewhat unnerving when I found myself on the edge of my seat reading IDW’s Transfusion: Vampires versus Robots by Steve Niles and Menton 3.

This is truly an exciting, creepy, haunting story with some of the most incredibly lovely and horrifying art I have seen in years, if not decades. Transfusion takes place in a post apocalyptic world where seasons are a thing of the distant past, nights are bone chilling cold and days are unbearably hot. Robots have taken over the world and now use ground up humans as their fuel. Blood and all. Which presents a problem for the starving Vampires whose food source, humans, is ever dwindling. In the first issue, Vampire William leads a group of unsuspecting humans to a field of corn which turns out to be a trap. Unfortunately for the Vampires, the trap is exploited by the Robots first.

Steve Niles weaves an engrossing tale of horror and suspense. When William talks about the insidious takeover of the world by technology and how he was born to parents who “thought pocket calculators were the most amazing invention in the world”, I can identify with that since, well, I’m old. Even the cautionary Terminator’ish tale about selling our souls to technology that would grind us up and use us to lubricate the metal joints of the Robots is effective. I’ve seen other reviews that talk about how Transfusion is a “simple” story. I disagree completely. Niles is judicious with his dialogue, not stingy. That he is able to give us as much story as we get and that the story we get is filled to the brim with such incredibly moody and atmospheric horror just goes to show that Niles is disciplined and knows exactly what works, what to reveal and what not to reveal.

But Niles isn’t doing this all by himself. He’s working in tandem with artist Menton 3 who delivers some of the most frightening, eerie imagery that I’ve seen since Bernie Wrightson was drawing horror. Menton 3 gives us a disturbing and visually stunning fusion of images that are evocative of artists such as H.R. Giger and Bill Sienkiewicz. The color palette is a hazy mixture of black and white with shocking flashes and splatters of red that jolts the reader from the haunting beauty of the foggy moors of a literally and figuratively cold apocalyptic world to the cruel fates of the humans that inhabit it.
I have no idea where this story is going to go, but I trust Steve Niles and Menton 3 to take me there in style and doing their level best to freak me out along the way. I highly recommend Transfusion #1.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


I’ve been a fan of James Bond films for as long as I can remember. It’s practically a clichĂ© now to say this, but like many others, my first Bond film was Goldfinger. This isn’t a surprise when you realize that Goldfinger was the first Bond film to be shown on Television in the United States. This was in the early 70s and I have a vivid memory of this as it was one of the first times that I can remember my parents letting me stay up late on a school night. As the familiar and rather comforting theme music for the ABC Sunday Night Movie played, I had no idea what I was in for. My 7 year old brain was simply not prepared for the level of awesomeness that I was about to be witness to. A naked woman painted gold! A car with an ejector seat, tire shredders, machine guns, oil slicks and smoke screen! A villain who killed with his hat! The hero almost cut in half by a laser! It was incredible. I have memories of my father saying things like “you’ll like this next part” or “keep watching, this next part is really good!”. And I heeded his advice as VHS and DVR’s and TiVo’s were far in my future. If you missed it you didn’t get a second chance. Heck, we hadn’t’ even heard of television remote controls yet! Like fishing, camping, Ford Mustangs and swapmeets, James Bond was one of those things for which my father and I had an affinity.

Several years and two televised Bond films later (Thunderball, From Russia With Love) I developed a love of Film Scores thanks to James Bond and the music of John Barry. Every Friday afternoon, my class would walk down the street to the local Library. As I wandered around I drifted to the music section and discovered this amazing album with, at that time, all of the music of the James Bond films called “The Incredible World of James Bond”. It had music from Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball. Every Friday I would make a beeline for the records and listen to the John Barry music over and over till it was time to leave. This appreciation for John Barry’s Bond scores would eventually lead to a love of classical music as well. I would anxiously await the next Bond film to be televised. My parents seemed to think I was too young to go to the theater to see a Bond film but seemed perfectly fine letting me watch them on the family television. 
By the time I caught up with the current Bond film being shown in the theaters it was 1979. The Bond film du jour was Moonraker and it was a blast. My brother and I sat with our jaws to the floor as James Bond was pushed out of a plane without a parachute in one of the best pre-credit action sequences in the history of the franchise. More adult fans might not have enjoyed the comic book silliness of the Moore years but, to a comic book reading kid in his early teens, it was thrilling. I had seen The Spy Who Loved Me on “Select TV” so I was delighted to see the return of metal toothed menace “Jaws”. Even then, in a post Star Wars world, I knew that the space effects were sub par. As a budding film buff, I was old enough to catch the tongue in cheek nods to Lawrence of Arabia and Magnificent Seven. Moonraker was also my favorite Bond score up to that time and it was a foregone conclusion that I would buy the soundtrack (as well as the Moonraker bubblegum trading cards!)

Over the years it seemed as though Bond permeated my pop culture consciousness to the point where I could mark the various milestones in my life and those of loved ones by the nearby release of a James Bond film. The year I got my first real summer job? For Your Eyes Only. High School graduation? Octopussy. Break up with my high school sweetheart? A View To A Kill. The year my best friend got married? The Living Daylights. My sister giving birth to her first child? Licence to Kill. Of course, James Bond films come out fairly frequently, so it’s easy to make these connections. Still, coincidence aside, the connection is there. I was born the year From Russia With Love came out and it’s entirely possible that Maurice Binders’s “silhouette” girls jump started my puberty.

As I got older, I realized that the torch had been passed to my nephew when I took him to see his first James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies. Just like all those years ago watching Goldfinger on TV with my Dad, I found myself telling my nephew “you’ll like this part” and “watch, this is the good part”. Several years later I took my Dad to see the Bond film The World Is Not Enough. I couldn’t help but feel a strong twinge of nostalgia as we sat and laughed together at a rather outrageous speedboat chase on the Thames. It was one of the last films I can remember going to see with my Dad. I would be married that following year and my Dad would go in for his second leg amputation and several bypass surgeries soon after. After that he tended to stay home and watch DVDs rather than make the trek to the local theater. In spite of slowing down, we still managed to enjoy the occasional Bond film together on cable.
It’s been just over a year since my father passed away and another James Bond film, Skyfall, is about to be released. I can‘t help but feel a bit melancholy. I’m sure that I’ll have that familiar nostalgic twinge as well as the almost pavlovian rush of excitement that I’ve come to feel as I watch the white circle rolling by, the Monty Norman theme playing and James Bond turning to shoot at the iconic rifle barrel.  I have no doubt that, somewhere in the audience, a father will be telling his son “watch, this is the good part”. He’ll be right.