Saturday, June 24, 2017

Noteworthy Reads: CHIRICAHUA BLUES


This third installment of Frank Leslie's "Bloody Arizona" quartet of Yakima Henry tales is once again an action-packed romp featuring everything readers have come to expect from Leslie (who, as most everybody knows, also doubles as Mean Pete Brandvold). 

The characters are memorable (some of them in rather unpleasant ways), the plot twists and turns in unexpected and exciting ways, and the writing is rich in details that add that special Brandvold/Leslie touch. Yakima, nowadays the marshal of Apache Springs, is still finding his hands full with the two quarreling Kosgrove sisters in addition to trying to keep peace in the town. Additionally, much of the story this time around is focused on Yak's deputy --- the aging former outlaw known as the Rio Grande Kid --- who is escorting in a vicious killer and runs into trouble with some renegade Indians. 

The two parallel stories switch back and forth and the action comes so hot and heavy readers will be breathless trying to keep up.
Strongly recommended!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Noteworthy Reads: SHADOW MAN by Andrew McBride

SHADOW MAN is the second novel in Andrew McBride's Calvin Taylor series, though you needn't have read the previous title to thoroughly enjoy this one.

Taylor is a hard-bitten veteran of the harsh Southwest frontier, a former Army scout and prospector, now hired on to scout for the Cameron wagon train, a small outfit beginning the perilous trip from Ore City to Rio Azul. The undertaking would be brutal enough under any conditions but with some renegade Apaches under the leadership of a chief called Loco raiding throughout the area, Taylor tries his best to warn Major Cameron against starting out. But the people in Cameron's party are desperate and worn down by hard luck and getting to Rio Azul is their last hope --- so they're willing to take the gamble. And, in order to give them their best chance for survival, Taylor feels compelled to stick with them.
What follows is a rousing, gritty, action-adventure filled with drama, suspense, betrayal, tragedy, and even a hint of romance.

Taylor makes a terrific hero and the cast of supporting characters is also colorful and memorable. The story takes numerous twists and turns, pitting Taylor against odds that at times seem impossible to overcome --- yet by raw guts and determination, he does.

The real star here, ranking right alongside Taylor, is author McBride's writing skill. He paints a vivid picture of the time and place and relates gritty, unflinching scenes rich with the enduring spirit and sometimes the savagery of the times. Here is a writer to watch and to savor. I urge you to seek out all of his titles --- like I know I am going to.
You won't be sorry you did.

Friday, June 16, 2017


For those who regularly shop via Amazon and perhaps are unaware, they now offer a very simple yet beneficial way for a portion of any of your purchases to go toward the charity of your choice. 0.5% of every purchase goes toward the designated charity. Costs you nothing yet, in volume, can mean a great deal to the selected cause.

Regular readers of this blog are well aware that I am a friend and supporter of Andrew Vachss --- not just his writing, but the bigger cause that said writing and all he does is aimed toward: The protection of the young and vulnerable who are at risk in so many ways from the predators in today's society.

One of the ways Andrew is fighting this war is his recent alignment with LDICP (Legislative Institute for Child Protection).  The goals of LDICP, in Andrew's own words, are: "To create, upon request, highly specific legislation to accomplish the goals of self-organized, grassroots organizations which intend to achieve a child protective objective. The passage of each piece of legislation is the goal, each time. So: no legislation to “form explanatory groups,” or “fight child abuse” or “raise public awareness.” Examples of what legislation might be requested include: Closing the loophole in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act that allows non-lawyer volunteers to “represent” children in abuse/neglect cases. Raising the stakes for “circle of trust” crimes. Requiring victim reparations in child pornography cases. Extending the statute of limitations in “vulnerable victims” cases. Establishing a Secure Treatment Unit for “the worst kids in the state” – any state, as the plan would be to construct and operate such an institution as a model, and to allow for independent monitoring and evaluation of its effectiveness. But these are illustrative examples, not suggestions." 

Consequently, I have chosen LDICP as the charity my Amazon purchases will benefit. You can learn more about the organization by following this link:
If you should choose to also select it as something you would like to support via the Amazon Smile program, you can do so through this link:
Whether you choose LDICP or perhaps another charity you feel more strongly about, I encourage you to explore the Smile program. It is a simple, automatic way -- at no cost to you -- to do a lot of good. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Another Look: THE HANGMAN (1959 western starring Robert Taylor)

The title of this fine Western drama is deceiving and (for me, at least) somewhat off-putting. Turns out it's not about a hangman at all but rather a relentless U.S. Marshal named Mac Bovard (played by Robert Taylor) who has a reputation for bringing in the worst owlhoots in the territory, most of whom end up on the gallows. Hence it is he who becomes known as “the hangman”.

At the time of this tale, Bovard has been wearing a badge of one kind or another for 20 years and has grown hard-edged and cynical. As the story opens, Bovard is delivering the third of four men wanted for bank robbery and the killing of another marshal who was previously on the case. Two of the robbers have already been hanged and the just-delivered varmint is expected to have his turn in short order. It's up to Bovard to bring in the fourth and final man. Trouble is, though his name is known to be John Butterfield, Bovard doesn't know what he looks like. If he can't find anybody else who does, Bovard's last chance to get a positive ID on Butterfield may be to bring him in front of the other remaining gang member before the latter hangs.

With the clock ticking, Bovard chases leads from Fort Kenton to a distant town where he finds a very likely suspect --- a man calling himself John Bishop who everybody in town, including the marshal, likes and respects and refuses to believe could be a former outlaw and killer. As a last resort, Bovard pays money to a down-on-her-luck widow and former girlfriend of Butterfield's (played by Tina Louise) to come to the town and confirm that Bishop/Butterfield are the same person. Things don't work out that easily, of course; there are a number of twists, confrontations, a few touches of humor, and even some romance before Bovard closes the case.

This is a highly entertaining little gem that I greatly enjoyed watching. It's a slightly offbeat Western yet at the same time fulfills all the requirements for a satisfying oater. The opening scenes could almost qualify as a crime drama and, since it's filmed in black and white and the dialogue is crisp and snappy, it even has some noirish touches. As the story unfolds and the backdrop broadens, it becomes steadily more “Western-y”.

Robert Taylor turns in a great veteran performance, the pitch-perfect delivery of brusque, no-nonsense dialogue and intensity that fits his character dead-on; Fess Parker, as the amiable, chain-smoking town marshal (trying to break his Davy Crockett mold during this period when he was at odds with Disney) also comes across well; but the real surprise is Tina Louise as the alternately sultry/vulnerable former girlfriend who is torn between loyalty and the need for money to start a better life. The combination of acting chops and a more voluptuous figure (almost Sophia Loren-ish) completely blows away her typecast image of slinky Ginger from Gilligan's Island that would eventually and unfortunately stall her later career.

In the very capable veteran hands of screenwriter Dudley Nichols and director Michael Curtiz, this is an extremely entertaining film. I DVR-ed and watched it for the first time about a week ago and then, when I was getting ready to write this article, I decided to skim through some parts again to refresh my memory --- but instead of skimming, I found myself enjoying it so much that I watched the whole thing all over again.
I don't know if it's available on DVD. If not, watch for it on cable --- either TCM or the Western channel. It's definitely worth catching. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Noteworthy Reads: THE MATAMOROS BULL (Rancho Diablo #9) by Colby Jackson

Readers of the popular, award-winning Rancho Diablo Western series have good reason to rejoice. Not only does MATAMOROS BULL mark a new, much-anticipated entry (ninth overall and the first one in four years), but it is an outstanding adventure well worth the wait. What's more, according to the author's note preceding the story, we've got three more titles (including a soon-to-be-released novella) to look forward to, coming in rapid order. The novel-length works—excluding the novella and starting with MATAMOROS BULL—will comprise a trilogy called “Storm Season” during which various members of the Rancho Diablo cast will be caught up in adventures that draw them away from the ranch itself.

As followers of the series likely already know, one of its unique features is that the titles to date have been written by three top-notch authors—James Reasoner, Bill Crider, and Mel Odom—all sharing the “Colby Jackson” byline and contributing different entries. This time around (as well as for the aforementioned novella and all of the “Storm Season” trilogy) it is Mr. Odom behind the curtain and, as already mentioned, he turns in a bravura performance.

Although many of the Flying D regulars we are familiar with from past adventures (Sam Blaylock, boss of the ranch and patriarch of the Blaylock family; Mike Tucker, his long time friend and right hand man; Gaby Darbins, another old friend and chuck wagon cook, etc.) are present here, it is Sam's youngest son Elijah who takes center stage for most of MATAMOROS BULL. He is a fifteen-year-old boy accompanying his father and a handful of wranglers on a trip into Old Mexico to buy a special breeding bull for the ranch. The adventures he experiences—both as part of the ranch outfit and, more importantly, when separated from the others—is a coming of age tale that is exciting, sometimes humorous, often dangerous, at times poignant, and plays out at a breakneck pace. Much of what Elijah has to deal with revolves around protecting his father's prize bull and trying to come to grips with his personal feelings for the lovely, sassy, ever challenging Ofelia—a young Mexican beauty he meets down in Mexico.
In a matter of only a few event-filled days, Elijah transitions from boy to man—in the eyes of himself and many others—before this tale is done, and makes his mark as a character we will be wanting to see more of in future Rancho Diablo tales. But, at the same time, author Jackson/Odom leaves Sam Blaylock and most of the rest of his crew in a cliff-hanger of a situation that will make readers count the minutes until we see what befalls them in the next episode, tentatively titled GHOST TOWN GUNDOWN

Good stuff. Strongly recommended!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Another Look: ARIZONA BUSHWHACKERS (1968 Western starring Howard Keel)

For a long time I rather arrogantly ignored the string of low budget Westerns produced by A.C. Lyles in the mid/late 1960s as sub par movie fare starring has-been actors and actresses in features no better than what was regularly playing on TV in those days.
I was wrong.

True, not all of these features are gems; also true that most of the starring roles are filled by veteran performers no longer in their prime or at the peak of their popularity. But right there is the key to what makes these features work to the extent that they do --- which is better than what I used to give them credit for. Now that I am a veteran of many things and also past my prime in numerous ways, I see things a little differently. And Westerns of a quality as seen in the better of the bygone TV shows would be a welcome change on the big or little screen as opposed to much of the crap currently available.
In short, I've been watching and enjoying several of these A.C. Lyles Westerns lately and have been left feeling a little guilty about my former dismissal of them.

ARIZONA BUSHWHACKERS, despite its rather bland title, is one of the best of what I've seen so far. Starting out with a voiceover narration by James Gagney (uncredited, but it is Jimmy Gagney, a well known friend of Lyles, sure as shootin') it tells the tale of former Confederate officer Lee Travis, now a galvanized Yankee, sent to "clean up" a small, corrupt Arizona town in Indian territory while the war is still going on. In truth, he still has allegiance to the Confederacy and is working undercover to try and secure a cache of much-needed guns and ammo hidden somewhere in the town. It all gets a little corny and a lot complicated with anti-Reb sentiments, double-crosses, good and bad characters not turning out to be what you first thought, and even an Indian raid at the climax. But the actors play it straight and sincere and elevate it higher than the material they have to work with.
Howard Keel, in the lead role, does a particularly good job. As does John Ireland.
With other veterans like Yvonne DeCarlo, Brian Donlevy, Barton MacLane, Marilyn Maxwell, and Scott Brady backing them up, it's a solid cast brought together in a good old-fashioned shoot-'em-up.
If that's what you're in the mood for --- and if you're not, you should be, at least from time to time --- you could do a lot worse.

Monday, April 3, 2017


I'm writing about this film not because it's particularly good, but rather because of the interesting back story.
It is built from two different episodes of the old Virginian TV series, edited and spliced together to form this feature-length movie. The reason? To take advantage of Charles Bronson's peaking popularity --- especially in overseas markets --- in the late '60s/early '70s after his appearance in hit films like THE DIRTY DOZEN, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, and RIDER ON THE RAIN.

Bronson's Virginian episode, titled "Nobility of Kings", was done in 1965; another episode, titled "Duel at Shiloh", made in 1963 and starring Brian Keith, was coupled in to fill up sufficient time. The resulting THE BULL OF THE WEST was released overseas in 1972. Whether or not it was ever shown in theaters in the U.S., I don't know. But it is currently being shown regularly on cable, mainly on the Western channel.

The parallel stories thus brought together involve two ranches bordering Shiloh, the centerpiece for the TV series. One is a small start-up affair run by Bronson, a tormented widower, since re-married, who has previously faced financial ruin and is obsessed with making a success this time around. The other outfit is run by a high-spirited, ruthless woman who has Keith as her ramrod. He is a cocky Texan with a fast gun and a fast lip and a seething hatred for the barbed wire being introduced to section off the different ranch properties in the valley.

Bronson's role makes him alternately sympathetic due to his plight yet sometimes unlikable due to the way he obsessively drives his wife and son. Keith's role is a scene-stealer every time he's on screen. (Though you'd never know it by the various movie "posters" that often don't even feature his name.)

The overall result is watchable, even mildly entertaining. There is some choppy editing, as you might imagine, and a few incidentals that don't get fully explained, but mostly it hangs together. In the end, Keith and his boss get their just deserts; Bronson endures some tragedy yet still comes out of it with some hope for the future.
In addition to the regular series cast members (including stalwart Lee J. Cobb), there are some additional "guest stars" on hand who lend some mighty strong support to the proceedings --- George Kennedy, Ben Johnson, Lois Nettleton, Geraldine Brooks, and DeForest Kelly.
With a cast like that, it would be hard to go completely wrong. I just hope those involved in the original productions got some kind of fair shake for this re-packaged presentation.

Worth the price of a theater ticket or even a low-cost DVD? Not likely. But, if you catch it on cable, like I said, it's watchable and mildly entertaining.
And now, to borrow a phrase, you know the rest of the story ...