Monday, March 23, 2015

Another Look: THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE (1956 Western, starring Glenn Ford)



Here is an often overlooked Western that foregoes the wild, wide open spaces and much of the action to be found in most “oaters”. That is perhaps why it does tend to get overlooked and is seldom included on lists of Best or Favorite Western films.
Nevertheless, it is quite a good feature. It’s heavy on atmosphere and drama, features very little in the way of humor (except in an early barn dance sequence that includes a prolonged and awkwardly out-of-place dance number by Russ Tamblyn, showing up here in between appearances in bigger, splashier movies like Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and West Side Story), and boasts several fine performances by a number of veteran actors.

The plot is centered around quiet, unassuming store clerk George Temple (Glenn Ford) who, along with his wife Dora (Jeanne Crain), has been running the general store in Cross Creek for the past four years. What no one else knows is that George has a tortured past. His father was a notorious gunfighter turned lawman who taught George how to handle a gun until the kid became faster and better at it than his teacher. But when his father was killed from ambush, George discovered that, no matter how good he was with a gun, he lacked the fortitude to use one against another man, not even the killer of his father. His guilt over this has kept him running ever since, spurred on by periodically displaying his gun prowess to others only to have to move on immediately afterward for fear of the fast guns that will inevitably come flocking to test him.

When frustration causes George to once more reveal his secret to the stunned citizens of Cross Creek, the inevitable then must follow: Word will spread, fast guns will start showing up, the quiet little town will be disrupted and threatened, and George will have to start facing the challenges … or again slink away.
This time, the townsfolk convince him to stay. They do so by promising --- actually swearing to it in church --- to keep his secret. Almost immediately, however, that promise is broken in an unexpected way and exactly as (in a rather wild coincidence that stretches credibility mighty thin) a notorious, nearly psychotic gunfighter named Vin Harold happens to be passing through. Naturally, Harold insists on a showdown to see who is fastest. He threatens to literally burn down the town if his challenge is not met.
I can’t say too much more without spoiling what is a surprising, wholly satisfying ending with a nifty twist.  

In addition to Ford, Crain, and Crawford, the cast contains a whole host of recognizable character actors including such stalwarts as Noah Berry Jr., John Dehner, Leif Erickson, Paul Birch, Dub Taylor, Virginia Gregg, and John Doucette. Ford is typically low key which is especially effective here, Crain looks a little too beautiful for a small town storekeeper’s wife but does a nice underplayed acting job, Erickson and Gregg are solid, and Dehner damn near steals the whole picture as one of Vinnie Harold’s cronies. Noah Berry, who almost always does a fine job, is disappointingly flat here. And Academy Award-winning Crawford (no, not for this film) over-acts to the point of practically making his character more comic than menacing.

The Fastest Gun Alive was directed and co-written by Russell Rouse. His co-author for the screenplay was Frank D. Gilroy who originally did a version of the story as a teleplay.
Worth checking out as a slightly offbeat, though still reasonably traditional, Western.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Available Now: HANNIBAL AT RISK - The Joe Hannibal Collection, Volume III

Available now for Kindle: A great way to kick off your summer reading list. Two complete novels and a collection of key Joe Hannibal stories, including the Edgar-nominated "Body Count" --- all for the super bargain price of only $1.49!

For over three decades, Joe Hannibal has stood tall on the fictional PI landscape. The Hannibal books and stories have been translated into several languages and have been nominated for an Edgar, an Anthony, and a total of six Shamus Awards.
Almost from the outset, Hannibal was dubbed "the blue collar PI" due in equal parts to the series' initial smaller-city setting of Rockford, Illinois, and its surrounding rural areas - as well as to the middle class roots and values that his creator brought to the writing. Later, after author and character both moved to the even more rural setting of west central Nebraska, the distinction only deepened.

Hannibal has matured and evolved as a character and the writing has been honed to a finer edge. But the admiration for and love of the PI genre that was always at the core and heart of the series has never changed.

While new Hannibals continue to be written, the original titles, though somewhat sketchily available over the years, remain strong, entertaining works. In order for readers to be able to discover this for themselves, a series of "boxed set" collections is being re-issued.

Volume III, presented here, sequentially features the seventh through eighth full-length Hannibal novels, and the Casefiles collection of some of the best Hannibal short stories:

GOSHEN HOLE
BLADE OF THE TIGER
BODY COUNT – (The Joe Hannibal Case Files, volume I))

Read, enjoy, stay on the lookout for more … And spread the word!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Another Look: CHUKA (1967 Western, starring Rod Taylor)


I first saw this movie at a drive-in theater (where I tended to see most movies back in those days) in the late sixties, shortly after its release. I didn't remember a whole lot about it, other than recalling it to be somewhat boring and generally unimpressive. My disappointment, I suspected afterward, might have been partly due to the fact that one of the female co-stars was a particularly curvaceous Playboy Playmate named Angela Dorian (later to be known as Victoria Vetri) who, despite having a fairly prominent role, kept those curves very modestly covered all through the picture.
Now, having recently watched the film again after 40-odd years, I still found it disappointing but for reasons notably apart from Ms. Dorian's unfortunate wardrobe choices.

In point of fact, CHUKA is an ambitious Western that hits much of what it aims for yet nevertheless misses some key marks.
Rod Taylor (who produced and co-wrote, in addition to starring) is quite effective in the title role. The name Chuka comes from a time when, as a youngster living on a ranch, he was found always hanging around the chuckwagon. He is described as "a quiet, lonely man" who has grown to become a renowned gunslinger. Taylor plays the part with a lot of intensity and comes across very convincingly as a tough hombre. He also handles the action scenes well. There is one sequence where an arrow streaks in through a window of the cavalry commander's quarters and hits one of the officers present --- Taylor (as Chuka) immediately plunges headlong out through the same window and goes into a rolling dive that ends up with him on one knee in the dirt, gun drawn, and blasting at the fleeing brave who fired the arrow. One may question the wisdom of plunging so recklessly toward where an arrow just came from, but the swiftness of the reaction --- while everyone else is momentarily stunned into frozen inactivity --- distinctly marks Chuka as a man of action and unquestionable bravery. There are other scenes of Chuka's remarkable speed with a gun and his endurance to survive a brutal fistfight that serve to reinforce this image.

The central plot of the film involves the plight of a remote army fort surrounded by starving, desperate Arapahoes preparing to mount an attack for the sake of gaining the food and supplies they are so badly in need of. The fort personnel is made up mostly of rejects and exiles from elsewhere, led by a former British commander who is dealing with personal demons of impotence and perceived past cowardice.
The commander is played by veteran John Mills, who does a nice job of playing a tormented man. Also on hand are other veteran character actors, James Whitmore as a salty, hard-drinking scout; and Ernest Borgnine as what at first appears to be just another heavy of the type he could play in his sleep, this time a bullying sergeant. The storyline and Ernie's acting chops, however, combine to give the sergeant some unexpected and even sympathetic depth. Also present, in addition to the aforementioned Ms. Dorian, is Italian actress Luciana Paluzzi playing a Spanish noblewoman who is escorting her niece (Dorian) to California for an arranged marriage. Arriving at the fort via stagecoach, the two women are stranded there until the Indian threat is quelled.
I don't want to give away too much about the ending, but the Indian threat is not quelled and the climax is a full-out attack on the fort with very grim consequences.

Another film veteran, Gordon Douglas, handles directing duties with a sure hand. The script is co-written (along with Taylor) by author Richard Jessup, based on his novel of the same name.
Ultimately, for me, the film's shortcoming comes from too much melodrama and angst covered by the back stories of the various characters. Layered a bit too heavily over the grit and action, the end result is … well, more depressing than exciting. Still, as I said at the outset, the film's goal is ambitious and it does have several good sequences. I'm glad I watched it again, I came away with a different and better impression. For the Western movie completist, I'd recommend it as worth checking out if you catch it on cable some time, or maybe as a bargain bin DVD. Your take might be more positive than mine.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Smooth Reading from Rough Edges Press

Here are two recent titles from James and Livia Reasoner's Rough Edges Press.
If you want to know why Western fiction is still very much alive and thriving, these are two good examples.




A savage ambush...twenty men slaughtered in a brutal massacre...a fortune in gold stolen! This was a crime big enough and bold enough to bring the Outlaw Ranger to the wide-open settlement of Cemetery Butte, where a powerful mining tycoon rode roughshod over any who dared to oppose him. But even that atrocity doesn't prepare G.W. Braddock for the evil that awaits him, stretching bloody hands out of the past.

Gritty, compelling, and packed with action, the saga of the Outlaw Ranger continues in BLOOD AND GOLD, the third exciting installment in this series from bestselling author James Reasoner.









The only thing J.D. and Kate Blaze planned to do in the settlement of Wilderness, Wyoming, was attend the wedding of one of Kate's friends. Instead outlaws launch a bloody raid on the church in the middle of the ceremony and kidnap the groom. It's up to J.D. and Kate, the wild West's only husband-and-wife gunfighters, to track down the gang, rescue the groom, and find out the reason behind the shocking violence.

Acclaimed Western author Jackson Lowry (THE SONORA NOOSE and WEST OF THE BIG RIVER: THE ARTIST) spins a colorful, action-packed yarn in SIX-GUN WEDDING, the fourth book in the bestselling Adult Western series BLAZE!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Noteworthy Reads: JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND by Scott Eyman


For almost as long as I can remember, I've been a huge John Wayne fan. I inherited it, you might say, from my parents (my mother, in particular).
In my pre-teen years, while my school chums and cousins all wanted to be Roy Rogers or Gene Autry or one of the kid-oriented TV cowboys, my idol was the Duke. His turn as Stony Brook in the "Three Mesquiteers" series of low budget Gower Gulch Westerns was especially appealing to me at that early age … and that appeal – for his movies and for the man himself – has never lagged.
For this reason, I have over the years read several biographies of Wayne and/or those (such as John Ford and Howard Hawks) who had a strong impact on his life. One of the best of these, A COMPANY OF HEROES by Harry Carey Jr., I reviewed here a few months back.
But Scott Eyman's JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND delves into the subject more thoroughly, by far, than anything I have previously read.
It is clear that Eyman is also a Wayne fan. (Though he comes across as even more a fan of Wayne's mentor John Ford --- yet another example of adoration for this irascible old bully and his cinematic "masterpieces" that, the older I get, I find harder and harder to appreciate – but that's a matter to explore more deeply some other time.)

Regardless of Eyman's personal feelings, however, he does a very good job of presenting a "warts and all" portrait of John Wayne, the life he led (enduring the lifelong disfavor of his mother, for starters), and his body of motion picture work. Wayne's less attractive sides --- his conflicting, half-hearted efforts to alternately attempt joining/then avoiding military service during WWII; his role in the anti-Commie/"blacklisting" years; his poor business decisions; his heavy drinking; his domination of young directors in his later years, etc --- are all covered in considerable detail. But so is his love of family, his generosity, his loyalty, his professionalism and dedication to his craft – most notably "building" the John Wayne personna, his deep awareness of his common Everyman roots and appreciation of same in the movie-going public who flocked to his films decade after decade and made him one of – if not the – biggest movie stars in the world.
If you are a Wayne fan like me, you will find this book endlessly fascinating. If you are a Wayne basher, you will find plenty here to use as additional "see, I told you so" fodder. And if you are ambivalent about the man himself but have an interest in behind-the-scene-deals and movie-making history --- especially the sausage-making Gower Gulch years --- there is some great coverage here.
Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

THE GUNSMITH Endures - Guest Post by Bob Randisi

 
OUR MAN CLINT

The Gunsmith Continues

By Robert J. Randisi, aka J.R. Roberts



It was a bloodbath, probably fitting, given how long adult westerns and mens adventure paperbacks have been spilling blood within their pages.  But in one fell swoop publishers, with seeming disregard for the readers—or the readers that were left, anyway—cancelled all the Adult Western series—notably the long running Longarm and Gunsmith series—and mens adventure series—most notably, the Mack Bolan series.  This move, as of April of 2015, will not only rob loyal readers of the adventures of Custis Longarm and Mack Bolan, but will also put entire stables of writers out of work. Both series, along with many others, were written by multiple writers, having supplied work for many working writers for a good 40 years.  In fact, the Adult Western genre not only invigorated the western genre and kept it alive, but provided income for dozens of writers over the years. And now it’s the end of an era for all of them . . .

. . . except The Gunsmith.

Why?

Very simple answer. For the most part, the Gunsmith was created and written by one man. When Charter Books contacted me in 1981 and asked me if I could create an Adult Western series for them, I jumped at the chance.  I created a bible and, when it was approved, signed a two book contract.  Then a contract for a third.  And then they called me and said they wanted to go into the genre whole-heartedly, and could I write a book a month.  I was 30 years old, had no idea if I could write a book a month, but I said “Yes!”

I started writing under the pseudonym J.R. Roberts.  When I attended my first Western convention I discovered what anomaly the Gunsmith and I were. There were several other monthly adult westerns running at the time, and they were being written by three or four writers under a single house name. A “house name” is a name used by many authors on one series.  My “J.R. Roberts” nom de-plume was a pseudonym used by one person, not a house name. (It was only after Berkley Books purchased Charter Books and wanted to keep the Gunsmith going that they asked if they could hire two more writers, just to build up an inventory. The writers were to be approved by me, and I was to own even those books which I did not write, and receive a royalty. It made me even more of an anomaly in the genre. Once we had built up a one year inventory, I went back to writing all the books.).

           
 And I have done so since then, for over 32 years.  Gunsmith #1: Macklin’s Women came out in January of 1982, and there has been a Gunsmith every month since then.  Berkley Books decided to end of the run in April of 2015 with #399, and I was given enough warning so that I was able to place the series elsewhere and assure that Gunsmith #400 would appear in May of 2015, with no break in the action.  They will appear with a new cover design in ebook for from Piccadilly Publishing, and in paperback from Western Trailblazers.   And Our Man Clint will go on appearing in a book a month for as long as my flying fingers can flex.

So to those loyal Gunsmith readers who pick up up each and every month, you may continue to do so, with heartfelt thanks from me, and from Our Man Clint Adams.

I should also thank Charter Books, where it all started, and then Berkley Books, which has kept the series going all these years, as we all move on to the next bend in the road.











Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Noteworthy Reads: BEATING THE BUSHES by Christine Matthews

Two fathers. One missing boy. A friendship that binds the two men, even beyond death.

When fifteen year old Stevie Kracher goes missing, volunteers descend on a small Missouri town to join the search. One of those volunteers is Vincent Lloyd, whose six-year-old little girl had disappeared three years earlier. When her body was finally found, Vince became the prime suspect. Now he sees this new abduction as a chance to redeem himself, and to help save a child.

Baylor Kracher is frantic to find his son. Nothing this devastating has ever happened to him; when he meets Vince he's found the only person he believes might understands his terror. Working with an Internet search group, fighting an aggressive reporter who's convinced that Vince killed his daughter, neither man will give an inch. But are they too late? And if they succeed, are they prepared for what they might find?

(WD here: I read this very powerful suspense thriller in virtually two sittings and was captivated every step of the way. The multiple-POV writing style is done about as effectively as I've seen. You can read my 5-star review on Amazon. I give this a big recommendation.)