Sunday, December 24, 2017


Yesterday I posted a humorous Christmas poem. In searching for the words to that poem (“Jest 'Fore Christmas”) I ran across this one and, needless to say, it moved me. So I thought I would share it, too. It's listed under a couple different titles, but “A Soldier's Night Before Christmas” seems to be the most common, and the one I prefer. There are versions applicable to the different branches of our Armed Services, but the core message is the same. Also, there seems to be some controversy as to who exactly wrote the original version (ranging from a soldier in Okinawa to one in Korea to one stationed in Washington D.C.). So I won't apply a byline – if you're interested, you can check it out on the web (Snopes gives a pretty thorough rundown).
The main thing is to read it and, hopefully, give it some thought. Then, while you're counting your blessings this Christmas season, be sure to remember the brave men and women who have fought over the past decades and centuries to give us the freedom to have these blessings.
Remember: If you're able to read this, thank a teacher; if you're reading it in English, thank a soldier.


Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone.
I had come down the chimney with presents to give
And to see just who in this home did live.
I looked all about a strange sight I did see,
No tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand,
On the wall hung pictures of far distant lands.
With medals and badges, awards of all kind
A sober thought came through my mind.
For this house was different, so dark and dreary,
I knew I had found the home of a soldier, once I could see clearly.
I heard stories about them, I had to see more
So I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping silent alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one bedroom home.
His face so gentle, his room in such disorder,
Not how I pictured a United States soldier.
Was this the hero of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?
His head was clean shaven, his weathered face tan,
I soon understood this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night
Owed their lives to these men who were willing to fight.
Soon ‘round the world, the children would play,
And grownups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom each month of the year,
Because of soldiers like this one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone
On a cold Christmas Eve in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees and started to cry.
The soldier awakened and I heard a rough voice,
“Santa don’t cry, this life is my choice;
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more,
my life is my God, my country, my Corps.”
With that he rolled over and drifted off into sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still,
I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
And I covered this Soldier from his toes to his head.
And I put on his T-shirt of gray and black,
With an eagle and an Army patch embroidered on back.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
And for a shining moment, I was United States Army deep inside.
I didn’t want to leave him on that cold dark night,
This guardian of honor so willing to fight.
Then the soldier rolled over, whispered with a voice so clean and pure,
“Carry on Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all is secure.”
One look at my watch, and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, and to all a good night!

Saturday, December 23, 2017


Not to reveal too much about my age, but many years back, when I was in 3rd or 4th grde, I attended a one-room school (actually, I went to two different ones in the course of the many schools I attended growing up – thanks to my dad's wanderlust and his constant search for a better job). The teacher at this particular school—I think her name might have been Mrs. Kildow but I can't remember for certain—used to read to us frequently. One of her favorites was the following Christmas poem. It was one of my favorites, too, and has stuck with me all these years. It came to mind the other day (as stray thoughts often do to old codgers) so I thought I'd see if I could find the exact wording on the Internet ... and by golly there it was.
After all these years I still had myself a chuckle or two reading through it again. It speaks of a simpler, sweeter time and of values (even naughty ones) I think everybody could use a dose of in this day and age.
Thinking ya'll might get a kick out of it, too, here—from the late 1800s, as written by Eugene Filed—is:


Father calls me William, sister calls me Will,
Mother calls me Willie but the fellers call me Bill!
Mighty glad I ain't a girl---ruther be a boy,
Without them sashes curls an' things that's worn by Fauntleroy!
Love to chawnk green apples an' go swimmin' in the lake--
Hate to take the castor-ile they give for belly-ache!
'Most all the time, the whole year round, there ain't no flies on me,
But jest 'fore Christmas I'm as good as I kin be!

Got a yeller dog named Sport, sic him on the cat.
First thing she knows she doesn't know where she is at!
Got a clipper sled, an' when us kids goes out to slide,
'Long comes the grocery cart, an' we all hook a ride!
But sometimes when the grocery man is worrited an' cross,
He reaches at us with his whip, an' larrups up his hoss,
An' then I laff an' holler, "Oh, ye never teched me!"
But jest 'fore Christmas I'm as good as I kin be!

Gran'ma says she hopes that when I git to be a man,
I'll be a missionarer like her oldest brother, Dan,
As was et up by the cannibals that live in Ceylon's Isle,
Where every prospeck pleases, an' only man is vile!
But gran'ma she has never been to see a Wild West show,
Nor read the life of Daniel Boone, or else I guess she'd know
That Buff'lo Bill an' cowboys is good enough for me!Excep' jest 'fore Christmas, when I'm as good as I kin be!

And then old Sport he hangs around, so solemn-like an' still,
His eyes they seem a-sayin': "What's the matter, little Bill?"
The old cat sneaks down off her perch an' wonders what's become
Of them two enemies of hern that used to make things hum!
But I am so perlite an' tend so earnestly to biz,
That mother says to father: "How improved our Willie is!"
But father, havin' been a boy hisself, suspicions me
When, jest 'fore Christmas, I'm as good as I kin be!

For Christmas, with its lots an' lots of candies, cakes an' toys,
Was made, they say, for proper kids an' not for naughty boys;
So wash yer face an' bresh yer hair, an' mind yer p's and q's,
And don't bust out yer pantaloons, and don't wear out yer shoes;
Say "Yessum" to the ladies, and "Yessur" to the men,
An' when they's company, don'a pass yer plate for pie again;
But, thinkin' of the things yer'd like to see upon that tree,
Jest 'fore Christmas be as good as yer kin be!

Eugene Field (1850-1895)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Available Now - WANTED: DEAD (Book 5 in the Bodie Kendrick - Bounty Hunter series)

My latest title in the Bodie Kendrick - Bounty Hunter series (number 5) is now available on Amazon Kindle. Here's the cover blurb that hopefully will help catch your interest:

Bounty hunter Bodie Kendrick makes a living bringing in wanted men. Sometimes face down across a saddle. This time, though, the job is different. He’s being paid to safely escort a man home who’s already served his prison sentence. But there is another man—a powerful individual whose thirst for revenge burns hot even after seven years—who wants the ex con to get his new start only one way … Dead! He’s hired an army of ruthless killers to make that happen. In order to keep them from having their way, Kendrick will have to match them bullet for bullet across two hundred miles of rugged country packed with even more danger before he can call his job done.

Hope you give it a try. Priced at only $2.99, I think it will be well worth your time and money.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Another Look: THE LAST COMMAND (1955, starring Sterling Haydden)

I first saw this film when it aired on TV (probably WGN out of Chicago) in the late Fifties. Since then it has been little seen and largely out of circulation, though I understand it was available in VHS and only recently on DVD.

It made an impact on me for a number of reasons. First, by then (at the tender age of 9 or 10) I had become quite interested in all things Alamo. (This stemmed, at that point, mainly from the Disney-Davy Crockett phenomenon that swept the country through the mid-Fifties and from a great uncle who told me about visiting the actual Alamo down in Texas and being able to still see bullet holes in the structure.) Secondly, the Alamo sequence in this film had a number of things in stark contrast to what had been presented by Disney --- mainly that there were women and children present in the fort (which I thought had to be an error) and then the portrayal of Davy Crockett by actor Arthur Hunnicutt (more on that later). Third it was my introduction to actor Sterling Hayden, whose work I would seek out and enjoy in many movies thereafter --- and then enjoy as an author much later on.

The film is constructed around legendary Jim Bowie (played by Hayden). It starts out a little slow and talky during the months leading up to the breakout of the Texas war for independence from Mexico, portraying Bowie (correctly) as a wealthy land owner and quite close friend (exaggerated) of Mexican tyrant-on-the-rise Santa Ana. It touches on the death of Bowie's wife and children due to the plague, covers a restless period where Bowie is on the fence about which side he should take, and then culminates in him taking charge of the Texican volunteers at the Alamo and sharing overall command with William Travis (played by Richard Carlson in probably his finest role).
You all know the story from there. The decision is made to defend the Alamo at all costs, costing Santa Ana days and weeks of delay while Sam Houston builds a true Texas army. Crockett, expected to arrive with hundreds more volunteers only shows up with 29; Fannin's reinforcements due to come from Goliad breaks down and can't make it in time; the line in the sand is drawn --- cross over if you're willing to fight to the death, take your chances and flee if not (with all crossing over). And then the rousing final battle where 180 go down fighting bravely against several thousand.

Produced and released through Republic Pictures, this is a considerably more ambitious feature than the Disney feature (which was originally made for TV) though not nearly on the scale of John Wayne's epic THE ALAMO which would come five years later. The well known back story is that Wayne, who was Republic's biggest star for many years, had long wanted to make a film about the Alamo. Herbert J. Yates, the head of Republic, strung him along for a number of years. A script was even written and approved. But Wayne, wanting control to tell the Alamo story his way, insisted on producing and directing the film; Yates wanted him only as a star. Wayne left Republic Pictures over the dispute and Yates refused to release the prepared script to him. In the end, once Wayne's version was completed and released in 1960, there are a couple key scenes that closely mirror each other and of course the overarching story is the same. But otherwise the two films have their own distinctions and both, in my opinion, turned out pretty good.

Though THE LAST COMMAND did not receive an extravagant budget (such as Wayne's later version) it nevertheless was made to high production standards. It was produced and directed by Frank Lloyd (a two-time Academy Award winner). The musical score was by acclaimed Max Steiner (complete with title lyrics sung by Gordon MacRae, at that time super hot as the star of Oklahoma! on Broadway).
As Bowie, Hayden does his usual competent, low key job. As Travis, Richard Carlson (fresh from appearances in numerous sci-fi and horror B movies, including Creature From the Black Lagoon the year before) gives perhaps one of the best Travis portrayals I've seen to date; his speech upon drawing the cross-over-if-you're-willing-to-fight scene (which may not have ever truly happened in real life, but is great drama nevertheless) is stirring and the intensity on his face and in his eyes during the final battle seems to fit perfectly. In a relatively small role as a fictional love interest to Bowie, Anna Marie Alberghetti does an okay job (come on, for an Italian opera star playing a Mexican contessa, you gotta cut her some slack). The previously mentioned, Arthur Hunnicutt plays the Crockett role as yet another cantankerous old Indian fighter, the mold he fit comfortably in on so many other occasions (The Big Sky, El Dorado, to name a couple classics); he's always a joy to watch and listen to, but his Crockett is not only a distinct departure from other interpretations but somehow seems a little too backwoodsy for a man who traveled the country and served in Congress. The rest of the cast is filled out nicely by numerous character actors giving solid performances --- Ernest Borgnine, John Russell, Jim Davis, and Slim Pickens among them. Finally, J. Carroll Naish gives an interesting performance as Santa Ana, making him pompous and ambitious yet at the same time a bit sympathetic, something never done in other Alamo films.
When the final battle comes, it is rousing and exciting and very well done, even though the budget allowed, appearance-wise, for a very scaled down version of the old mission and the “horde” of Mexican soldiers seems stretched a mite thin in a few scenes.

All and all, THE LAST COMMAND is rousing and entertaining. As big a John Wayne fan as I am and much as it pains me to admit it, it stacks up very well in many regards against Duke's bloated, long-winded epic (which I still like a lot) and is considerably better than the dark, dour 2004 ALAMO starring Billy Bob Thornton.
It is now playing regularly on the Starz Western channel and well worth keeping an eye peeled for.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Noteworthy Reads: THE PECOS UNDERTAKER by Colby Jackson

Mel Odom, under his Colby Jackson byline, has been on a real tear across the Western fiction landscape this summer. Recently on these pages I wrote about THE MATAMOROS BULL, his latest novel in the Rancho Diablo series. On the heels of that, though not covered here, was the novella THE ARMADILLO'S HOLE SALOON. Both are mighty fine entries not only in the series, but in the Western genre overall.

Now comes the just-released THE PECOS UNDERTAKER, the first book in a projected new series featuring protagonists Charlie Stark and Maggie Buchanan. It is one of the most original and exciting page-turners I have come across in a long, long time!

At the start of the book, Charlie is an assistant undertaker to his mentor Mr. Henson; Maggie is a deputy working for her father, the town marshal. Both are loners with troubled pasts and few friends, though they have a rather tenuous relationship with each other.
Mr. Henson is tortured and killed for mysterious reasons by the vicious outlaw Angel Blunt and Charlie is shot and left for dead. Not long after that, Maggie's father is also killed by Blunt and his gang as the result of a raid that leaves many other Pecos citizens injured and dead as well. The worlds of Charlie and Maggie have been turned upside down and the two loners (now more so than ever) gradually strengthen their friendship and unify to put the pieces of their lives back together, always with the end goal of seeing Angel Blunt brought to justice. Charlie – even though a bit hot-tempered and handy with his fists – is nevertheless the calmer and more practical of the two; Maggie – cool, deadly with her brace of pistols and also quick to throw a punch – is the force that propels them forward.
Charlie no longer pursues the undertaker trade, though he still prefers dressing in a suit and tie such as he's become accustomed to; hence he is often still referred to as “the undertaker”. Maggie, discharged from her deputy duties by the new town marshal, continues to wear jeans and colorful blouses and to pack a pair of guns. Together they form a bail bond service and bounty hunt their own fugitives when the need arises.
They have several encounters with nasty hombres, learning as they go and becoming quite good at their trade. But they're always alert for something that will eventually lead them to Blunt and his gang and, without giving too much away, they achieve that in the rousing climax.

This is one of those books you never want to see end because it is that good, and you will definitely want to see more of Maggie and Charlie. The pace is fast, the action plentiful, the characters colorful and memorable, and the writing is top-notch.
I strongly, strongly recommend this book!

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 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 ...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Noteworthy Reads: GERONIMO MUST DIE by J.R. Lindermuth

This delightful new novel from John Lindermuth is a blend of fact and fiction skillfully woven into a highly entertaining tale.

The cover blurb adequately covers the plot highlights.

The reader is treated to elements of history, mystery, action, betrayal, romance, tragedy, and humor. Told through the eyes of half-breed protagonist Mickey Free, the descriptions of life on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in the late 1870s and the relationships between the different tribes are richly detailed, fascinating, and accurate without ever slowing down the pace or getting in the way of the story. This is a testament to Lindermuth's skill as a writer and his passion for history.

GERONIMO MUST DIE is one of those books that transports you to a different time and place and makes you feel as if you are right there in the thick of exciting events surrounded by colorful characters.
A terrific reading experience. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


We all know by now that movie remakes seldom work out so hot and yet film makers – especially in recent years, it seems – keep going back to the same well again and again. Where remakes work best is when a particular story/concept isn't just re-hashed but rather when it is “re-booted” with some sort of fresh spin on the original concept. The BATMAN/DARK KNIGHT trilogy comes to mind as a good example of this and, more recent and more directly related to this article, 2014's GODZILLA is another.

That's what the producers of KONG: SKULL ISLAND did. They took the basic concept of Kong and his mysterious, uncharted island … then threw away the old plot with the movie crew and the golden-haired “beauty” who ultimately leads Kong to his demise from atop the Empire State Building and re-booted all that with a whole new set of characters, an updated time period (mid-1970s), and a whole new reason for going to Skull Island, complete with a military helicopter squadron escorting them. The motives for the expedition get to be a little complicated and silly (but, hey, this is a giant-prehistoric-monsters-in-modern-times movie so it's not fair to look for hard scientific reasoning) and, of course, there's more to 'em than everybody is at first led to believe.
Upon reaching the island, the team's transport ship cannot land because of the fierce “perpetual storm” that surrounds and obscures the place. So they go in via the military helicopters which are able to penetrate the storm. Once through, they immediately begin dropping explosives from which the accompanying seismologists can test one of the theories (a hollow earth) that brought them there. What they get instead is a pissed-off Kong who doesn't like uninvited guests showing up and setting off bombs in his back yard. To show his annoyance, he attacks the copters, destroys them all, killing many, and splitting the surviving members of the expedition into two groups.

From there, the movie becomes a long chase sequence with the two groups trying to reach a rendezvous with a re-supply team due to arrive at a point on the north end of the island in three days. Along the way, they have several clashes with various prehistoric monsters still in existence on the island – most fearsome of all being the underground reptilian horrors known as the Skullcrawlers. Kong, it turns out, is the island's protector against these predators and other threats.

I enjoyed this movie a lot. I was really looking forward to it, and did not come away disappointed.

The ensemble cast plays well off one another, particularly the banter amongst the soldiers. The male/female leads struck some subdued romantic sparks, though nothing overt came of it. Brie Larsen made an impression as a spunky, somewhat sassy big-time photographer who looked quite fetching in a very tight tank top; Tom Hiddleson, as a former British Special Air Service captain hired as tracker-hunter isn't really given a lot to do as the lead in an action movie, but conveys a certain presence and adequately handles what is asked of him. Samuel Jackson, as the commander of the helicopter squadron, intently portrays a man seeking revenge for the men he lost on the island and also revenge for having to “abandon” the Vietnam war. John C. Reilly, as a WWII pilot stranded on the island for all these years, nearly steals the movie (from the live-action performers, that is) by providing equal measures of humor and grim, sage advice for the newcomers.
The special effects are excellent and, when they are on display, there were two things I really appreciated about them: One, they were filmed in such a way where you could actually follow the action that was taking place (as opposed to, say, the TRANSFORMERS movies, where the screen is just a blur of colors and motion and you have no idea who the hell is doing what to who); and Two, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has a keen sense of how long to let these action set pieces play (as opposed to , say, Peter Jackson who, in his 2005 KING KONG remake, let some of his action scenes go on and on and on, until they were squeezed dry of all excitement and actually became boring).

All in all, a terrific popcorn-action-fun movie to kick off the summer movie-going season. And, perhaps best of all, Kong is left alive at the end (I don't think this is too much of a spoiler because the fact has been widely mentioned) to be appearing again a couple years down the road when he's scheduled to duke it out with another heavyweight contender from the past … Godzilla!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Noteworthy Reads: BLOODY ARIZONA by Frank Leslie

This latest Yakima Henry adventure by Frank Leslie (who most everybody knows is ol' Mean Pete hisself, Peter Brandvold) is the first of a “quartet” of new short novels promised by the author. We haven't seen Yakima in a while and it surely is good to have the rowdy half-breed back in action.

And, as usual for a novel from Leslie/Brandvold, action is the key word. It starts right from the get-go with Yak getting tossed in jail for brawling and then having to blast his way free after the marshal who put him there is savagely gunned down and it falls to the half-breed to go after the killers and the widow they take as hostage.

Subsequently, before the bad guys are made to pay, there is lots more gunplay and some hot sex with a pair of competitive sisters Yakima keeps encountering. There are also some poignant scenes where Yakima reflects on how much he misses his late wife.

The real delight in this yarn, however, is the Rio Grande Kid – a crusty, quasi-loony old outlaw who is long past being a “kid”. At first against Yakima's will (but eventually with the half-breed's gratitude) he becomes a sidekick we hope we'll be seeing more of in future yarns.

Top notch, gun-blazing entertainment you don't want to miss!
Strongly recommended.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Another Look: THE SPOILERS (1942, starring John Wayne)

Prior to a few days ago, anyone would have been hard pressed to name a John Wayne film of any significance (which is to say almost anything post 1939's Stagecoach) that I haven't seen, many of them several times. Yeah, I'm an unabashed Duke fan, inherited from my folks, particularly my mother.
Nevertheless, for some reason I had never before watched The Spoilers until I got the chance to DVR it off cable about a week ago. I knew about it, had read quite a bit about it, had even seen its kindred flick --- Pittsburgh, released the same year starring the same lead trio of Wayne, Randolph Scott, and Marlene Dietrich --- more than once. But never got around to The Spoilers.
Well, now that gap in my movie viewing history has been filled and the experience was quite satisfactory.

The movie is based on a 1906 novel by the same name, written by Rex Beach. A peer of --- and heavily influenced by --- Jack London, Beach was a very popular writer throughout the early 1900s. (He wrote plays as well as novels and played on the silver medal-winning U.S. Water polo team in the 1904 Olympics.) For the most part, critics did not favor his literary output nearly as much as the reading public. Though lauded by one as “the Victor Hugo of the North”, many others found his work formulaic and unoriginal. “Strong hairy men doing strong hairy deeds” summed up one; while an Alaskan historian has since claimed his work is “mercifully forgotten today” … Almost makes you want to rush out and read some of his stuff just for spite, don't it?

At any rate, THE SPOILERS novel proved to be popular enough to be made into a movie no less than five times --- in 1914, 1923, 1930, 1942, and 1955. And each time with pretty well-established stars of the period. (For example: Gary Cooper starred in the 1930 version; Jeff Chandler/Rory Calhoun in 1955.)
But the star package was never bigger than the Dietrich/Scott/Wayne ensemble that Universal put together for this '42 version. Dietrich got top billing; Scott second; Wayne third, largely because he was on “loan” to Universal even though his part was bigger than Scott's and he was playing the hero. (As opposed to the aforementioned Pittsburgh, where Scott was the hero and Duke played the heel.) But, inasmuch as it has since been well documented that Dietrich and Wayne were having a torrid affair during this time period, one can assume that Duke was in a pretty agreeable mood as long as he was getting the lead role with Marlene off camera.

The movie itself is a rousing, two-fisted adventure that takes place in and around Nome, Alaska at the height of the 1900 Alaska gold rush --- a sort of a “Northern” as opposed to a more traditional Western (similar to Duke's North to Alaska that would come out 18 years later). Dietrich plays Cherry Malotte, owner of the town's most popular saloon; Scott plays Alexander McNamara, the newly appointed gold commissioner; Wayne plays Roy Glennister, Cherry's boyfriend and also half owner of the Midas mine (with Harry Carey Sr. as his partner Al Dextry).
In cahoots with a crooked judge, McNamara is allowing bogus cross claims to be filed on many of the best mines in the area, including the Midas, and then tying up the legal proceedings while thousands of dollars worth of gold is being siphoned from the mines during the time they are allegedly shut down. He's also trying to worm his way into the arms of Cherry.
Backed by his pal Dextry and armed with inside information from the judge's niece, who has fallen in love with him, Glennister stages a bank hold-up to get back the stolen money along with some key documents that prove the corruption of the judge and McNamara. This causes the judge to cut his losses and flee and brings Glennister face to face with McNamara in Cherry's saloon. With the townsfolk and other miners looking on, the two men slug it out in a fierce, smashing brawl that wrecks the saloon, spills out into the street, then back into the saloon again. Glennister is finally victorious, not only winning the fight but also winning back his girl and clearing the rights to his gold mine.

The whole thing is a lot of fun. Top production values, a strong cast, and a treatment that takes itself seriously, but not overly so, by injecting bits of drama and suspense but also plenty of rugged humor. The big fight climax is spectacularly staged with Wayne and Scott – not doubles - clearly mixing it up in several of the shots.
For me, finally getting to see this minor classic was worth the wait.
For anybody else who has never seen it before or maybe not for a long time, I'd certainly recommend spending the 87 minutes it takes to watch it if/when you get the chance. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Noteworthy Reads: BULLETS, BRUINS, AND A LADY CALLED CHANCE by Peter Brandvold

This latest from Peter Brandvold (Ol' Mean Pete himself) is number four in the popular Bear Haskell series and it is a corker. I suppose it's sort of redundant to say that about any book by Brandvold (who also writes as Frank Leslie) because they're all action-charged page turners. But in this case, especially, Pete really goes balls out (and when you ready this yarn for yourself you'll see that's more than just an overused euphemism).

This time around, Deputy U.S. Marshal Haskell is sent to the bitter, freezing cold Dakota Territory in the dead of winter to investigate a series of alarming murders (including a previously dispatched U.S. Marshal) that have taken place in the settlement of Sioux Camp. The murder count only escalates after Bear shows up, some of it thanks to him and his own blazing .44.
Before Bear can stop the killings and solve who's behind them, he must first tussle with a pair of hot-blooded north country gals, tangle with a rogue grizzly who seems more interested in chomping on a nosy lawman than hibernating, dodge bullets and blizzards, and uncover layers of deceit and shame that reach far into the past.

Brandvold writes strong prose, rich in detail even in the midst of gun-blazing action (without ever slowing down the pace), introduces an array of colorful and original characters, and plots a mystery that will keep you guessing right to the end.
Good stuff. Recommended.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Noteworthy Reads: THE SAVAGE PACK by Fred Blosser

Reading this rousing historical adventure by Fred Blosser made me feel much the same as when I was a kid first discovering books like TREASURE ISLAND, THE THREE MUSKETEERS, and THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. It took me to a time and place I knew little or nothing about, introduced me to colorful characters and customs, threw in a mysterious object that everybody seems to want a all costs, then weaves the whole works into a complex, action-packed yarn. I'm talking rugged frontiersman, Indians, damsels in distress, damsels out to cause distress, dastardly villains, spies and counterspies --- even pirates!

The time is 1714 and the settings are the interior wilderness and coastal settlements of North Carolina. The main protagonists are Axtel “Ax” Fannin and his sidekick Jesse Driggs. The action starts one rainy night in the forest when they rescue lovely Sophia Drummond from her kidnappers and from there things propel forward and the pace never lets up.

Author Blosser's writing is clean and straightforward and he lays out the details of the period with a sure hand. The twists and turns and surprises of his plot will keep you entertained and anxious to keep turning the pages to see what happens next.
Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Another Look: THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO (starring Glenn Ford, 1953)

This is an interesting Western drama from director Budd Boetticher, who a few years later would direct a string of Randolph Scott Westerns that are considered minor classics of the genre.
In and of itself, THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO is also a noteworthy oater. Its execution perhaps does not match its ambitions, but it nevertheless is solid entertainment with some different twists.

Glenn Ford (always easy to watch) plays protagonist John Stroud, who, as the title suggests, is a man who fled the battle of the Alamo before it fell under the superior forces of Santa Ana. His reasons for leaving, however, have nothing to do with cowardice. In fact, in an early scene where the Mexican army's bombardment of the mission fort results in its flag pole being blown off the wall, Stroud risks danger from further blasts by climbing up and re-posting the flag while the bombardment continues. Shortly after this, however, we learn that Stroud is one of about a half dozen volunteer defenders who have property and families not far to the north. Since word is out that Santa Ana is issuing land grants to Texcians who will fight on his side and harass settlers as his army is otherwise occupied, Stroud and his neighbors are worried for the safety of their families while they are away in battle. When a rider makes it through the enemy lines with word that no reinforcements are coming to aid the embattled garrison, he also mentions that raids are taking place up north by a band of Mexican sympathizers who are burning homes and re-claiming land for themselves. Based on this, Stroud and the others hold a secret meeting to try and decide how to fight Santa Ana and keep their families safe at the same time. “One man more or less here ain't gonna make that much difference,” one of them says. “But one man up there might be enough to round up our wives and kids and get them to safety.” They then agree to draw lots to see who will be the one man to try and make it out … Stroud draws the black bean.
When Travis assembles the garrison and gives permission for any man to leave who doesn't want to stay and fight to the death, Stroud takes a horse and rides out with no clear explanation for why he is making the choice. The rider who brought in word that no reinforcements are on the way is also sent back out by Travis, but not before he sees Stroud leave and is left to think him a coward.

Weeks later, Stroud arrives back home only to find he is too late. His home and those of his friends have all been raided and burned to the ground, his own wife and child murdered. He learns from the lone survivor, the young son of a faithful servant who also killed, that this was the work of a Mexicn sympathizer and gang leader named Jess Wade.
Stroud takes the boy to the nearby town of Franklin where he seeks to leave the orphan with someone who will care for him while Stroud returns to the war. In town, he learns that the Alamo has fallen and he ends up branded a coward and the “man who left the Alamo”. Things go from bad to worse when Stroud is taken into protective custody to save him from a lynch mob. When a Texican army patrol shows up to evacuate the town ahead of the advancing Mexican army, a wagon train is formed and Stroud, still a prisoner, is taken along. Unknown to any of them, the Jess Wade gang takes out after them in order to get the bank money that is traveling on the train. After they've started out, the army patrol is suddenly called away to go fight with Sam Houston in the battle of San Jacinto, leaving the train of mostly women and children to fend for themselves. Stroud steps forward at this point, showing his true bravery and cunning, and leads this unlikely force in a successful fight against the attacking gang. In the process, the truth is finally revealed and accepted of why he left the Alamo. He even ends up with a new sweetheart before he rides off to also join Sam Houston in winning Texas independence.

Like I said, interesting and with some different twists. Also with a sizable dollop of hokiness (like why didn't Stroud or any of his buddies reveal, right from the get-go, his reason for riding away from the Alamo in the first place).
Also noteworthy and curious: In the opening scenes at the Alamo, everybody was firing flintlock rifles and pistols (as it should be). After Stroud got away and showed up in Franklin, he was packing a revolver holstered on his hip—as were the sheriff and other men in town. And the Wade gang members were also packin' revolvers. But then, when the ladies of the wagon train were armed by Stroud to fight off the gang, they were issued flintlocks again. This is a pretty glaring inaccuracy for the time period.

Also of note (to me anyway) is the presence here of actor Chill Wills in a significant role. Seven years later, in John Wayne's big budget version of THE ALAMO, Wills would play another significant role and even get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for it (which he lost, and deserved to—largely due to his overzealous lobbying for the vote). Truth to tell, in THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO he played a better, stronger part.
Hugh O'Brien, Neville Brand, and Julia Adams also turn in good performances. And Victor Jory, as gangleader Jess Wade, is convincingly menacing, but to me he seems oddly out of place in a Western.

Still, quibbles aside, this is a pretty entertaining flick. Well worth 80 minutes of your time if you catch it on the tube or spot it in a DVD bargain bin.