darkpassage

I review the Bogart/Bacall classic, “Dark Passage,” and give some insight into writer David Goodis’ life, today on Cinema Retro. 

skelos

I just received a print copy of the new magazine, SKELOS, The Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy, and I’m blown away by the fantastic review written by Keith West of my book, “Hunting Monsters Is My Business, The Mordecai Slate Stories.” It’s the publication’s first issue, and I’m thrilled to have my work mentioned in what promises to be a serious and significant periodical aimed at presenting new fiction, thoughtful essays, and book reviews.

The review caught me by surprise. I had no idea they were even considering it. “Hunting Monsters Is My Business,” came out in 2014 and is a collection of all the Mordecai Slate short stories published in various zines and anthologies over the last several years, as well as an original novella written especially for the book. It’s been the most popular book I’ve done so far, and has been in the Amazon Top 100 horror westerns continuously since it’s publication.

The reviewer had a lot of good things to say about the individual stories and about Mordecai Slate as a character. For example:

“Mordecai Slate doesn’t have a lot of angst in most of the stories. He’s very much a cool-headed, resourceful man who doesn’t back down easily. I think Robert E. Howard would have enjoyed these stories. Whalen writes with a lean, at times almost Hemingway-esque style.”

He also noted the “insightful meditation on what sort of person courts danger by hunting monsters,” which appears in the collection’s title story. He also thought two stories featuring Asian characters were “two of the most original in the book.”

It’s a long review and I could quote more from it, but better you get a copy of the magazine and read it yourself. You can get your copy here.

Do you know which movie was the first film noir ever made? Read my review up on Cinema Retro today.

You’ll be able to impress your friends at your next cocktail party.

Peter Lorre stars in “Stranger on the Third Floor.”

 

My latest book, THE BIG SHUTDOWN, is a science fiction novel with a definite retro flavor to it. It’s been called a combination of Flash Gordon and Once Upon a time in the West. So I guess that means it’s what they call a Space Western.

The main character, Jack Brand, is a former U.S. Army ranger who lives in the late 23rd Century. He left Earth to take a job as a security officer on the oil-rich planet of Tulon, and was followed there later by his kid-sister Terry. She became a member of his tactical squad but was captured by the Wilkersons, a gang of Tulon Nomads. The story begins after her capture, and follows Brand as he searches for her.

His search takes him to several different locations on the planet, including a domed city in the desert run by alien gangsters, a savage jungle where one of the former members of his squad has crash-landed, the broken down religious community run by a minister who’s lost his faith, an underwater city threatened by a giant Octopod, and others. Along the way he meets up with Christy Jones, an unforgettable woman who runs a casino in Tulon Central. The story of their relationship is an important part of the story of The Big Shutdown, as they meet, and are separated by circumstances.

Brand’s search for Terry is running out of time. The conglomerates back on Earth have found another energy source, and Tulon’s oil deposits are no longer of any value. The planet is being phased out. The energy companies are packing up and the last ships are leaving for Earth. Can Brand find Terry, and reunite with Christy before Tulon faces THE BIG SHUTDOWN? 

Click on the title above to order your copy.

Amazing how far we’ve gone since then from even caring if we have individual identities or are just numbers in a system. How far we’ve drifted into mindless conformity.

The political parties trot out their figureheads, who tell us how they will change the nation. And the news channels explain it all to us, over and over and over until we’ve got it straight.

They tell us what to think. because we no longer know how to think.

And when Election Day comes our fingers, run by remote control from our conditioned brains, press a button and the new leader is elected. There’s no difference who it is. The system is in gridlock and nothing will change. Because that’s the way No. 1 wants it.

Who is No. 1?

Yesterday I did something I always wanted to do, but never had the chance to before. The chance came unexpectedly and I took it. I satisfied a lifelong wish and at the same time carved out my place in posterity.

That’s what it’s all about, after all, isn’t it. That’s why we write books, or paint, or sculpt. That’s why men build cathedrals and churches. You may build a bridge, or a sky scraper. In ancient Egypt they built pyramids  and Sphinxes to serve as reminders that the pharaohs once walked the Earth. We all want to be remembered. We all want to leave something behind that says we were here.

Here in Virginia, the county officials have been tearing up the sidewalks and laying down new concrete. I have a house that sits on a corner property, and the road crews are currently working on replacing all the corner sidewalks. They did a good job on my corner. It only took them a day. They chopped up the concrete pretty quick with a tractor-like thing that had a jackhammer on the end of it. Another bunch of guys came later and loaded the concrete onto a dump truck with a steam shovel. After that, they laid gravel, and finally by the late afternoon they poured the concrete. They started around 7 a.m. and were done by 5 p.m.

I talked to one of the guys, who had sat down under one of the trees on the front lawn, catching a break. He said they’d have the neighborhood done in a couple of days. I told him it looked good, and I was glad to see the county was helping keep the neighborhood up. I said another good thing about it was that projects like that help create jobs. He said that was for sure. He was glad to get the work.

After the guys had all gone home for the day, leaving some of their tractors and other equipment behind for the corner across the street the next day, I went back out and took a closer look at the new sidewalk. It was a definite improvement over the old one. It looked so clean and fresh. I ducked under the yellow barrier tape and stooped down to get a closer look. It looked like it had already set. I reached a finger out and touched it. It was still wet. I pulled my finger away and it left a dark smudge there on the sidewalk. And a sudden urge came over me. Must be the same urge those guys building the pyramids and the cathedrals had. I looked up and down the street. There was nobody around. I reached down and put my finger on the dark spot I’d left behind and then traced the letter J and next to it W.

I stood up, made sure I hadn’t been spotted, and with a silly smirk on my face, went back in the house. The sun went down an hour later, and I went to sleep that night, with the realization that someday I may not be around, my books and articles, and movie reviews may disappear from the face of the earth. But those initials in the sidewalk will be there for some time. Jean Shepherd once said,”Can you imagine 4,000 years passing, and you’re not even a memory? Think about it friends. It’s not just a possibility. It is a certainty.”

Well that sidewalk on the corner may not last 4,00o years. But it’ll be there a while anyway.

jw

 

tombstoneI just caught the episode that famed director Sam Peckinpah wrote for the classic western TV series, Tombstone Territory. Aired in 1958, the episode, “Johnny Ringo’s Last Ride” is the only one he wrote for the old ABC TV series. It tells a unique version of how the famous outlaw Johnny Ringo came to an end. It’s one of the earliest scripts Peckinpah crafted for TV and it’s interesting how, even back then, the main themes he always focused on in his later films are right there at the beginning.

Peckinpah is most noted for his films “The Wild Bunch”, “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” and “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.” Although “Johnny Ringo’s Last Ride,” is based on historical fact, the story line is mostly fiction. The true facts are that Ringo was found dead near Chiricahua Peak outside Tombstone. His body was found resting in the fork of a tree, and there was a bullet hole in his head. The coroner ruled his death a suicide, but for years there have been different theories about what really happened to him. Some people say they think Wyatt Earp killed him, other say Doc Holliday. Others point to a gambler named  Michael O’Rourke as the culprit.

In the Tombstone Territory version, Peckinpah, who scripted from a story by series producer Andy White, makes a crooked politician the villain.Bloody Sam seems to have been fond of that idea. In “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” the Santa Fe Ring was responsible for pushing Garret to hunt down his old friend Billy. In “The Wild Bunch” it was the railroad that forced former gang member Deke Thornton to track down his old friends. The conflict between loyalty to a friend and the necessity of saving your own skin was always a major Peckinpah theme.

And so in “Johnny Ringo’s Last Ride,” Clay Hollister (Pat Conway) is pushed by a crooked Judge to hunt down his old friend Johnny (Myron Healey). Judge Reese wants to get rid of both Johnny and Hollister for his own reasons. Hollister shows a bit more intestinal fortitude than either Garrett or Thornton, in that he stands up against the judge. Hollister, who is probably modeled on either Wyatt or Virgil Earp resists phony warrants issued by Judge Reese. But partly through the Judge’s Machiavellian machinations and partly through cruel fate, Johnny still ends up being killed in the desert in Turkey Creek Canyon. Hollister tries to save him but fails. But at least unlike the later Peckinpah heroes he wasn’t forced to kill his own friend, and has the authority to bring the man responsible to justice.

Tombstone Territory is being shown currently on getTV. Conway as Hollister portrays a tough as nails sheriff with nerve and steely eyes. Never could figure why he didn’t go on to bigger and better things. This series and the half-hour Gunsmokes (half a dozen of which Peckinpah also wrote) on Encore Westerns are well worth watching for their realistic stories of the old west.

 

 

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[This blog appeared three years ago, but it bears repeating.]

The 1960s were an interesting time in America. There were giants walking on the land, as rocker Neil Young testfies in his latest CD, Psychedelic Pill. American culture hadn’t yet started to slide into the dumbed-down, tone-deaf, myopic mess it is now. In films Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa and Goddard were creating masterpieces, on radio Jean Shepherd talked his nightly installments of the Great American novel, in literature, J.D. Salinger, Tennessee Williams, John Updike and many more wrote deep, meaningful explorations of the human heart. And even on television, although the golden age of live drama had ended, a giant still practiced his art.

Stirling Silliphant, the poet laureate of the open road and the free soul, co-created a one of a kind television series called route 66, a show about two young guys in a Corvette searching the American highways for a place, a feeling, a sense of belonging somewhere. Silliphant wrote 73 stories, full one-hour scripts for the show during its four year run. And in most of those tales he expressed ideas, thoughts, and feelings about what it is to be human on planet earth—the fight to keep your humanity, enduring cruelty and intolerance, fighting indifference, and searching for love—all expressed in some of the most poetic dialog ever written for TV.

This isn’t a blog about route 66, though. That’s a topic I’ve never fully discussed here—what that show meant to a college boy hearing for the first time about existentialism, Pirandello, Zen, and jazz musicians named Sticky Mack and Gabe Johnson. Someday I’ll tackle route 66 but not yet.

The thing is, though, even though the show aired fifty years ago, its influence is still being felt, and in some surprising places. One of the latest and best, is a new CD entitled appropriately Go Where the Road Leads. The album features saxophonist Kenny Blake and vocalist Maria Shaheen, both from Pittsburgh. The CD was produced and arranged by a fellow by the name of Peter Morley, who also wrote the title tune and several others on the disc, and played some percussion and keyboards as well.

Route66bnov

I happen to know that Pete is a route 66 fan. He has expressed his admiration for the show and for Silliphant many times on a Yahoo forum dedicated to the program, which is where I made his acquaintance. His love for the series and its influence on his song writing are well evident in this wonderful new disc. But while the CD captures the feeling that the route 66 program inspired (that sense that there is something worth searching for on the open road), to say that Go Where the Road Leads is a tribute to the past would be inaccurate. It’s more accurate to say the music here shows there are still people out there who dig what Tod and Buz, the two guys in the ’Vette, were trying to do. There are those who still get Buz’s message.  Buz said: ” Go, just go, man.” And this album goes.

Kenny Blake is a saxophonist in the tradition of Cannonball Adderly, and on this CD he’s playing in a full-toned lyrical style reminiscent of Art Pepper. But these comparisons don’t really do him justice, because Blake has a distinctive sound of his own, whether he’s on soprano, alto or tenor.

Maria Shaheen’s voice has a haunting quality to it that grabs you from the first note she sings on the opening tune, “Tu Sais L’amour,” one that she wrote the melody for. Blake accompanies her with a very warm sound on tenor. The middle section of the song has Shaheen improvising melodic variations on the three French words in the title, while Blake weaves a hip, and beautiful tapestry around the main line. Very nice.

Next up is the title song, and here Morley’s lyrics express the essence of route 66— that  when life gets stagnant there’s always the possibility of getting in your car and “doing something totally insane.” The song is fast-paced with Blake playing a boppish alto solo, and Shaheen inviting us to bypass our usual exit on the freeway, to ‘spin the compass, point me into the sun and let’s run where the road leads.”

No sooner do the last notes of the open road fade away when electric keyboard chords set the hard-to-define mood of the next song, “The Waters of March.” This Antonio Carlos Jobim tune is a killer. It never fails to raise goosebumps, and the arrangement that Morley has provided here is so good you can hardly listen without wanting to laugh and cry at the same time.  “A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road .. .”

“Begin the Beguine” is next with a very relaxed mood and an exquisite piano solo by Jeff Lashway, as well as Blake’s inventive improvisations on soprano sax.

“To William” begins with an actual quote from one of Silliphant’s route 66 scripts. “He’s the wind from a place I’ve never been before,” a line spoken by Diane Baker, playing one of the many crazy mixed up girls that the route 66 guys kept running into. Here Shaheen’s vocal asks, “when I wake in the morning will I find all that’s left are these line to William?”

“Soul Serenade” provides a gritty workout for Blake on alto while Shaheen provides a background chorus through multi-tracking, while drummer Brian Edwards keeps hip, grooving time.

“Tangerine Wine” and “Private Devils” are both Morley originals. Wine is about the choice between being a nine-to-fiver “wasting my youth on time-clock time,” or finding “a kind of truth in the thunder wine, the tangerine wine”—a  metaphor for those who prefer a more bohemian lifestyle. This cut features a solo by bassist Mike Houlis that tells a truth all its own.

“Devils” tells about a hipster’s struggle to keep “a private code,” while trying to juggle “all these many levels of meaning.” Lyrics to think about.

The album ends with an instrumental bossa that features Blake with a quartet and gives him a chance to stretch out.

It’s hard to sum up an album that has “so many levels of meaning” in it. Morley’s lyrics reach for something difficult to express. Sometimes they’re oblique and mysterious. It’s the sounds that accompany them that get the real meaning across. It’s more something you feel than hear. There was a route 66 story in which the heroes try to explain a very complicated situation to a little boy, and when they ask if he understands, he says: “Not all the words. But the sound of it.”

All you truth seekers out there, you travelers on the endless highway, pick up this CD. It’s background music you need for The Journey.

Available at Amazon.com.

pikeEveryone’s calling Ted Cruise a dirty, double crossing rat, because he gave his word that he would support the Republican nominee, and then refused to endorse Trump at the convention. Is Lyin’ Ted really a double crosser? Or is he a hero from a Sam Peckinpah movie, who went into the enemy’s nest on a suicidal mission, and did what his conscience told him to do regardless of the consequences?

His family’s honor had been smeared by the Trumpster, and he wanted revenge. But, you say, “He gave his word.”

Well, there’s a scene in The Wild Bunch, where Pike Bishop and Dutch Engstrom are discussing the betrayal of one of their former gang members, Deke Thornton, who’s helping the railroad posse track them down.

Pike Bishop: What would you do in his place? He gave his word.

Dutch Engstrom: He gave his word to a railroad.

Pike Bishop: It’s his word.

Dutch Engstrom: That ain’t what counts! It’s who you give it to!

Golden ArrowYou know what gets me? Whenever there’s a movie with some guy lost in the desert, invariably you’ll have that scene where the guy pulls out his canteen and finds it empty. He looks at it in surprise then with a snarl on his kisser, he tosses it away.

I was watching “The Golden Arrow,” a film that Tab Hunter made in 1962. It was an Italian Arabian Nights thing, directed by Antonio Margheriti no less. And sure enough old Tab is trying to cross a desert to find the Golden Arrow so he can marry the princess and he pulls his horse up, pulls out the canteen and … EMPTY. With that same snarl of disgust they always have, he tosses it away.

Whenever I see that scene, I always want to shout: “Hey, dummy. Why’d you throw the canteen away? What are you gonna do if you find some water up ahead? What are you going to carry it in? Don’t throw that canteen away! It’s not like they grow on trees out there in the Sahara!”

Old Tab Hunter with a very deep dubbed-in voice in The Golden Arrow. I hate to say I thought he was dead. But he isn’t. Still alive and kicking at age 85.

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