sevendaysinmay1964_ff_188x141_120320120717

The Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination has created a situation very similar to the kind of thing Rod Serling wrote about in some of his teleplays and movie scripts in the 1950s and ’60s. Serling, before he had to compromise his searing moral vision by writing Twilight Zone in order to stay active as a writer in television, often presented stories in which characters faced moral dilemmas. The plots usually involved a character who had to make a choice between doing something he or she found morally wrong in order to prevent a greater wrong, or doing nothing.

Case in point is his script for Seven Days in May (1964), in which Marine Colonel Kirk Douglas, discovers evidence of a coup d’etat being planned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff led by charismatic Air Force General Burt Lancaster. In order to prevent the coup Douglas teams up with trusted advisers including Edmund O’Brien, an alcoholic Southern Senator. The two main plot lines involve Douglas trying to dig up dirt on Lancaster that he can use to stop him, and O’Brien going down to Texas to try and find a secret base from which the plotters plan to launch the coup.

Douglas visits Ava Gardner, who had been romantically involved with Lancaster,  and obtains some love letters the general wrote to her. Frederick March is the president and he has been informed of the situation and gave Douglas the go-ahead with his effort, but when he finds out about the love letters, he balks. He dislikes the idea of using dirt that would smear the general that way. But he knows that if Edmund O’Brien can’t find physical evidence that the coup and the secret base actually exists, he may have no choice but to use what he has.

The story builds dramatically to the point, where it looks like the President will have to forsake his moral code and go for the jugular. But at the last minute he’s saved from making that choice when the evidence O’Brien was looking for is found. The last scene, after a brilliant speech by Frederick March warning the nation of the lure of tyrants and their glib promises, he goes to the oval office and tosses the love letters in his waste basket.

Now the question is what would Frederick March have done if the evidence of the secret base hadn’t been discovered? Would he have used the letters? You could say that was precisely the situation the Democrats in Congress, and in particular Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) found themselves in when they realized they could not stop the Republicans from confirming Kavanaugh. Feinstein had a letter from a California professor claiming the judge tried to rape her at a party when they were both teenagers  Feinstein kept it under wraps and it appears she only sent it to the FBI when it no longer seemed possible to stop Kavanaugh any other way.

Obviously Feinstein and the Democrats believe they have morally upright grounds for letting the accusation go public. They could argue that letting a man like him sit on the court could end up being a disaster for the country. And they might be right. It was a desperate move, born out of frustration. First the Dems are angry that Barack Obama’s nominee to the court was never even given a hearing by the Republicans. The Kavanaugh hearings have been rushed in order to get him confirmed before the November mid-term elections. And, most important, they have classified thousands of pages of Kavanaugh-related documents, which the Democrats say they need to get a clear picture of where he really stands on issues. They obviously feel he and the Republicans are hiding something.

The Republicans however want Kavanaugh’s accuser to face their questions at a public hearing– a hearing in which both she and the judge would have to state their cases under oath. It’s already too late to prevent the trauma both accused and accuser are facing. The accuser is already getting death threats and had to move and Kavanaugh, even if he is confirmed by Trump’s rubber stamp Senate, will always be a major league player with an asterisk after his name. Not likely ever to be a Hall of Famer. Neither the professor or the judge come out a winner when it’s all done.

So, life is not like the movies. Morality is not as black and white as it seems on the silver screen, and easy last-minute solutions rarely happen. But one thing Serling had right. The cost in human terms, the loss of humanity, the loss of integrity,  as compromises to public morality continue to be made, have a payoff down the road in terms of real heartache and pain.

 

 

 

 

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singingguns

It’s another one of my movie reviews showing up on Cinema Retro. You’d think they’d have better judgment. This time I dig into SINGING GUNS a Trucolor western starring Republic Pictures most famous cowboy star. . . (wait for it). . .VAUGHN MONROE! Wut? Who? Read it here.

HOOPER

BURT REYNOLDS, 1936-2018

I’ve got a strange story to tell you about Burt Reynolds. Back in 2016 I wrote a review of Burt’s movie HOOPER for the Cinema Retro blog shortly after it was released on Blu-ray. I loved that movie. It was basically a love poem to the Hollywood stunt man,  which Burt had once been when he started out. He continued doing his own stunt all through his career.  In his old age he came to regret all the falls and leaps and jumps he did for the movies, ending up in his seventies barely able to walk. But it never seemed to dampen his spirit or turn him bitter. Appearing on various talk shows on occasion, he showed the same sense of humor he’d always had.

Cinemaretro ran the review and it got a pretty favorable reaction. After it came out I wondered if Burt would ever see it. Thought he might get a kick out of reading it.  At that point his career had hit a lull. There hadn’t been any movie offers for a while. I wondered if he was on social media. I checked on twitter and found the twitter account @burtf*****grey listed. At first I was kind of shocked he’d go on there under that name but then I figured, well, why wouldn’t he? He was always a fun-loving guy who didn’t mind giving the world the finger every so often.  His twitter page had a cartoonish picture of himself with moustache  and a recent photo,  but he seemed to have only 30 followers! That made me doubt it was really his twitter page. Probably some Burt Reynolds wannabe imposter.

But I scrolled through the few tweets and saw that Adam Rifkin had tweeted him. Rifkin is a movie director who was about to do Burt’s next movie,  THE LAST MOVIE STAR,  a film written specifically for him. So I figured I’d give it a try. What did I have to lose. I tweeted Burt and sent him a link to the HOOPER review and waited to see what would happen. A couple days later, somewhat to my surprise, he tweeted me back and thanked me for sending him the review. Well, now I was really curious. Was it really him? I wrote him back. “Is this really the real Burt Reynolds? How come you only have 30 followers?” He said: “I’m afraid the twitter crowd isn’t too familiar with me.” In another tweet to somebody else he said he was having trouble figuring out all the touch pad “and autocorrect shit, I aint all young and millennial like you.” He said he was on Twitter at his grandkids’ request.

I was half convinced this really could be The Bandit. But I wanted to find out for sure. I decided to test him. Back in the sixties when he did a lot of TV work he appeared in an episode of ROUTE 66 called “love is a skinny kid.” (The titles were always in small letters.) It was an episode guest starring Tuesday Weld as a girl named Miriam Moore. In the story she gets off a Greyhound in a small Texas twon wearing a blank mask with no features and stirs every body up when she walks out to her mother’s house, the house she grew up in. She’s come to confront her for sending her to a mental institution when she was little, because they thought there was something wrong with her. In reality she was a super smart kid way ahead of everyone else but no one  understood.  (Aint that always the way? At least it is in any good Stirling Silliphant script.) Burt played one of the local townspeople, a hillbilly named Tommy. He and George Maharis have a couple of edgy scenes together.

So I tweeted @Burtf*****grey a test question. “What part did you play on Route 66?” I thought by now if it really was Burt, I’d probably annoyed him to the point where he either wouldn’t answer or he’d tell me to go to hell. Or if it was an imposter, he’d tweet back and try to fudge it somehow.  But a couple of days later he tweeted back. “Tommy,” he said. “And I still have the mask that Miriam Moore wore somewhere in my basement.”

I was floored. It really was him. Either that or a hoaxer who knew more about Burt Reynolds than Burt did. Gave me a weird feeling. If it was him, he was really a man out of time. A stranger in the cyber world of the 21st century, with only 30 followers, willing to correspond with a stranger who liked his movies.

I tweeted him a couple more times, sent him some other reviews and articles that he seemed to enjoy. But after a while he stopped tweeting. He got involved in the making of THE LAST MOVIE STAR (originally titled DOG YEARS) and probably gave up on social media. I’m glad.  Glad he got busy and had a good time over the last two years. There are now a total of 114 followers on his twitter page. Not much of an improvement. But who needs twitter?

I guess I’ll never know for sure if those tweets really were from The Bandit. I think they were. At least I’d like to think so. Anybody else out there know anything about @Burtf*****grey?

 

 

INFINITY

Finally got a copy of Avengers: Infinity War. Had a store credit at Best Buy so I didn’t have to pay money for it. Glad. Didn’t like. While it had its moments, they weren’t enough to make it worthwhile sitting for two 1/2 hours while endless fight scenes crash and bang all over the screen, leaving you sort of numb and confused.

It was thrilling at first to see so many Marvel characters introduced in various cool action scenes, but what followed didn’t live up to the intro. After a while I couldn’t wait for it to end. Visually it looked great on my 55-inch 4K TV and the sound was great and all that type of stuff. Bread and circuses.

Although they plan to complete this story in another sequel (imagine 2 1/2 hours and they couldn’t really end it), I think that may be the nail in the coffin for Marvel movies. (I know I’m crazy. The movie made a fortune). But for me the whole comic book superhero phenom has had its day. Movies have degenerated over the years so badly. They used to be made from great novels, or plays. Or original, intelligent screenplays. We lowered the bar years ago to the comic book level. What’s the next trend? Hey, maybe movies about people who can’t fly!

It’s the dumbing down of movies to the comic book level that disturbs me. When a society reaches that point it inevitably elects a Donald Trump as its president. The results become catastrophic.

It’s not just a US phenomenon. It’s world wide. Look at all the authoritarian regimes rising up around the world.When you believe that the answer to problems is to consolidate power, the final result is an iron fist that smashes opposition. It’s comic book-level thinking, (Hulk SMASH) which is quickly becoming the only way that people think, if they can think at all.

tragonOne reason I wrote TRAGON OF RAMURA was that I wanted to present two heroes from two different races, one white and the other black.teamed up together, sharing a bond of mutual respect for each other. I recall the Brothers of the Spear, the old comic strip that appeared in the old DELL Tarzan comics. Dan-El and Notango stand clearly in my mind as one of the few black and white heroic duos of the past. I’m no pulp fiction scholar but I can’t think of many others before or since then. If there are any they’re pretty obscure.

Today the world seems more divisive than ever, even in literature and film. Black writers seem to be writing for a black readership while white writers continue to be more involved in retreading the ideas of Robert E. Howard, with the umpteenth pastiche of Conan the Barbarian, rather than trying to step into fresh territory.

TRAGON OF RAMURA is an attempt to move on to new ground. A fresh story with new characters that make a difference.

Take a look. Order your copy here.

                                                        Here’s something you might like to know about Tragon and Yusef, the two tragonheroes in my new novel,TRAGON OF RAMURA. The characters were inspired by “Brothers of the Spear,” the comic strip that appeared years ago in the back of the old Dell Tarzan comic books. “Brothers of the Spear” was one of the first pairings of a white man and a black man together that I can remember. Natongo was the son of a Zulu chieftain, and Dan-El was the chief of a lost white tribe in Aba-Zulu. The two of them had many exciting adventures.

In my novel, Tragon is a captain in the Rumuran navy who has been framed for the murder of his king. Before that event occurred, on one of his adventures that took him to the desert country of Jadia, Tragon was ambushed by Taurag bandits and would have been killed if not for Yusef’s intervention. As a result, Yusef’s religious beliefs compelled him thenceforth to serve as Tragon’s body guard. It’s not an original idea, but in one part of the story I had a little fun with it. In one scene in a dive on the East Coast of Afkira, Tragon gets embroiled in a fight with four Abu swordsmen and once again Yusef provides assistance:

“Tragon saw Yusef battling on the other side of the room with the second of his antagonists, the first already lying dead on the floor. Tragon started over to them when a screaming blur rose up from the floor. The Abu who had started it all was again conscious. Shouting incoherently, he came at Tragon like a cyclone. Never had Tragon seen the like of it. These men all fought as though they cared not whether they lived or died. Their blades clashed, and the two men stood locked together for a moment, glaring at each other over their swords. The Abu raised his free hand and a knife flashed. The Abu roared like a wild beast and came at Tragon, both blades swinging. Steel struck steel with a steady clanging rhythm. Tragon could not stop the fanatic’s onslaught. He took another step backward, and slipped on a piece of broken chair that lay on the floor. His legs went out from under him and the Abu stood over him, his eyes rimmed with white. He threw the knife away and the sword came up in both hands. But when it should have plunged downward, Tragon heard the whoosh of a blade and the sound of steel slicing through flesh and bone. The Abu’s head flew from his shoulders. Yusef stood behind him watching as the headless body teetered for a moment then toppled to the floor.

The Jadian wiped blood from his blade with the fanatic’s white robe and sheathed the weapon. “I would never willingly kill a man from behind,” he said. “But it was Khemer’s will that I do so to protect you, Captain.” He helped Tragon to his feet. “They fought like demons,” he said. “What sort of men are they?”

“There are strange things, and even stranger, in this part of the world,” Tragon said. He put his hand on the Jadian’s broad shoulder. “Once again I owe you my life, my brother.”

“It is as Khmer wished it,” Yusef said.

Tragon sheathed his sword. “A strange god you worship who puts such a burden on a man for doing a good deed.”

“That is what we believe, captain,” Yusef said. “By saving you from those Taurag bandits that day in the desert I became responsible for you. It was Khmer’s will that you were to die that day, and enter the gates of Paradise to be with him and worship him forever. Without thinking, I interfered with his plan for you, and Khmer lost a worshipper. Now I must ensure no harm comes to you. If you die now because of my negligence, Khmer will lock me out of Paradise forever. I will make sure that never happens. You will live to a ripe old age, or, if Khmer wills it, we will both die together.”

“But I keep telling you, Yusef,” Tragon said, “I never heard of Khmer before I met you, so how do you figure he would have lost a worshipper if those bandits had killed me. How can he lose a worshipper who had never heard of him? Can you explain that?”

“You may not have heard of him, captain,” Yusef said. “But he has always known you. And I am glad to have enlightened you of his presence.”

Tragon shook his head in exasperation. The Jadian’s strange theology was something they had discussed many times, and he was no nearer to understanding it than he had been at the beginning.” (Copyright 2018 John M. Whalen.)

You can order your copy of TRAGON OF RAMURA here. 

 

 

dark

Mordecai Slate fans will be glad to know he’s back in the saddle, riding the trail, roaming the range, or whatever western cliche you prefer.

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT is the latest anthology Scott Harris has put together. In this one 52 writers take a stab at writing a flash fiction piece of exactly 500 words starting with “It was a dark and stormy night. . . ”

You may think the whole idea is one big cliche but nothing could be further from the truth. You’d be surprised what 52 writers can conjure up in their feverish brains. There’s a lot of talent here.

In “The Relay Station” Slate seeks shelter from a storm at an abandoned stage coach relay station. The story proves the notion that even when a monster hunter isn’t looking for trouble, trouble will find him. Check it out.

aretha_franklin_port_452-h_2017

A gypsy fortune teller told her father one day she would sing before kings and queens.

And she did.

Her name is written in the stars.

Farewell, Aretha.

 

hopp

The Unite the Right neo-Nazis are coming to Washington this Sunday. By sheer coincidence, I recorded a one-hour Twilight Zone episode Sunday night, called, “He’s Alive.” About a young neo-Nazi played by Dennis Hopper who is a flop at rallying crowds to his cause until the ghost of Adolph Hitler shows up and tells him how to do it.

The Rod Serling script was a brilliant analysis of the kind of pathetic character who becomes the leader of organizations like this. Serling reminds us in his concluding narration that Hitler is still very much alive.

“Where will he go next, this phantom from another time, this resurrected ghost of a previous nightmare – Chicago? Los Angeles? Miami, Florida? Vincennes, Indiana? Syracuse, New York? Anyplace, everyplace, where there’s hate, where there’s prejudice, where there’s bigotry. He’s alive. He’s alive so long as these evils exist. Remember that when he comes to your town. Remember it when you hear his voice speaking out through others. Remember it when you hear a name called, a minority attacked, any blind, unreasoning assault on a people or any human being. He’s alive because through these things we keep him alive.”

It’s quite a show. Anyone remember seeing it?

escapesbat

My new novel, Tragon of Ramura, has been out a little less than two weeks now and the reception it’s gotten has been excellent.  James Reasoner’s review over on his blog, ROUGH EDGES, was nothing less than a rave. He called it a “pure pleasure,” a “sword and sorcery novel in the classic mold.” He noted the references in the book to Robert E. Howard, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’m lining up some more reviews soon. (Incidentally, if you are a legitimate book reviewer and would like a review copy, contact me on facebook or my email ( whalenj@cox.net and I’ll send you one.)

TRAGON OF RAMURA is a no-holds-barred action piece with some of the most furious battles between men and beast, and men and monsters that I’ve ever put to paper. But there are some unexpected dimensions to the story that I don’t think you’ve seen in a story like this before. Tragon is not the stereotypical S&S hero. He’s a man of action, but he’s got a shadow hanging over him. Before the story opens, we learn, he’s been framed for the murder of the King of Ramura. The real assassin is Caldec, an evil sorcerer who locked Tragon up in a dungeon, and with the sheer force of his evil gaze nearly broke Tragon. With the help of his sidekick Yusef, the black man from the desert country of Jadia, he escaped. But he’s not the same man. For a year he has roamed the sea in his ship the Orion, fleeing the sorcerer’s warships, unable to return home to mete out justice to the evil doer because he knows he has no weapon powerful enough to defeat the wizard’s magic. But then a strange dream  comes to him, a dream about a  beautiful woman and a red talisman, The Crimson Eye of Caiphar, the source of the most powerful magic in the Universe. When a man hires him to take him up the coast to a lost city to rescue his imprisoned daughter held by savage creatures that live there, Tragon believes he may have found the solution to his problem.

tragonI don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll stop here. But as I said, the book has a number of surprises. One of them is an action scene that is my version of a scene well-known by Tarzan movie fans, but a scene that never made it to the screen. In 1936, MGM released TARZAN ESCAPES, one of the great Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan flicks. In it’s initial release TARZAN ESCAPES contained a scene where Tarzan, Jane, and the other major characters were attacked in a swamp by giant devil bats (See the poster above). From all descriptions I’ve read of it, it surely would have been one of the best action set pieces in the entire Weissmuller run. But MGM thought it was too scary for its intended audience (whatever that means). The scene was cut from the film and exists now only as legend.

I always wished the film element containing that scene would show up somewhere, but it never has. So I decided to write it myself and put it in TRAGON OF RAMURA. At least my own twisted version of it.  In the story, Tragon, Yusef, and Variano, the man who hired passage on his ship, and the nine mercenaries he engaged to rescue his daughter from the savage creatures who rule the Lost City of Caiphar, must first journey through a jungle and then a swamp, where they encounter some real horrors.  The scene below begins after one such encounter, and leads almost immediately into a scene of intense action. . .

 

Suddenly, Kasha, the Azyrian raised his hand and called, “Hold!”

Everything stopped.

“What is it,” Majdak asked.

“Listen,” the Azyrian whispered.

For a moment no one heard anything, then a peculiar, low frequency humming sound came from the dark distance ahead. They waited anxiously as the sound got louder. Then one of the Afkirans let out a shout and began flailing his arms. At first Tragon could not make out what had happened, but then he saw what appeared to be a large bat-like creature
flying above the man’s head. It was larger than any bat Tragon had ever seen and had a long, narrow head with a sharp-looking beak. Its leathery body measured three or four feet long and its flapping wings spanned five or six feet across. For a moment Tragon thought it was a creature he had learned about in ancient legends as a boy—a Thorg, an evil thing that
lived long before the dawn of man. But how could it be? The Thorgs of ancient times had become extinct a millennia ago, if indeed they ever existed. And yet here the thing was, circling in the air around the Afkiran.

A thick strand of something resembling silk thread shot out of its torso and wrapped around the man’s neck. The Afkiran tried to scream, but the strangling thread choked off his cries. The humming sound grew louder and then another of the things appeared and still another. They made circles around the Afkiran, quickly covering him in white gauze until
he could no longer move his arms or legs. With a terrified cry he fell to the ground screaming, as the three monstrous things dove on top of him. Tragon ran forward and began hacking with his sword at the creatures as they tore flesh from the Afkiran’s head with their long, sharp beaks. Kasha came to Tragon’s aid and the two of them managed to get the creatures to fly off. But it was too late. Tragon stood aghast at the sight of the dying man on the ground. His head and body were covered with cuts, bloody tears and large, red welts. He let out one final gasp and was gone.

“What were those thing?” Kasha asked.

“I’m not sure,” Tragon said, bending down to examine the dead man. He pulled some of the silk thread away from his neck. “They seem like creatures that aren’t supposed to exist anymore.”

The band of mercenaries had gathered around the body of the dead Afkiran and looked on in stunned silence.

“You are correct, captain,” Variano said. “That is precisely what they are. A descendant of the ancient Thorg, the most deadly bird of prey that ever existed. I had not encountered them on my previous journey here. I’d heard stories that a subspecies of these ancient creatures might still live here in the swamp near Caiphar, but I never imagined they actually
existed.”

Variano stopped talking suddenly, raised his hand, and cocked his head to one side. The eerie humming sound was returning. Only this time it was louder and deeper—the sound of dozens of pairs of wings flying in their direction. A large cloud of the monstrous bat-things was coming toward them through the trees.

“What kind of place is this?” one of the Mazai shouted, his eyes suddenly wide with terror.

It was useless to run. They braced for the attack and the Thorgs fell upon them. Sharp beaks plunged and tore. Wings flapped insanely all around as spools of white webbing were cast over the men, wrapped around their necks and arms, and held them. The webbing covered their eyes, blinding them, and obstructed their mouths and noses, suffocating them. Tragon lashed out with his sword. With every swing of the blade there was sickening contact with the thick, leathery bodies flying around him. With every contact his blade made he heard a weird high pitched shriek. Sticky, silk threads flew around him, encircled his head, wrapped around his arms and torso. The threads were thick and strong. He tore at them with his free hand and swung the blade and one of the monstrous things fell, severed
in two.

Tragon saw Yusef, bow in hand, firing a volley of arrows with quick repetitive shots that brought down half a dozen of the things. But there were too many of them and a moment later Yusef tossed his bow aside and brandished his scimitar, as the Thorgs swarmed him front and back. The Jadian hacked wildly at them, trying to keep them away from his head.
Kasha stood in one spot, his long blade a whirlwind of flashing steel. One after another of the Thorgs fell to the jungle floor, with the Azyrian seemingly impervious to their attack. A few feet away, one of the Afkirans dropped to the ground, a half dozen of the bat-things on top of him. The man struggled briefly then his body suddenly went stiff as the things circled him madly, weaving a shroud of silk around him. To Tragon’s utter shock he watched as the Thorgs lifted the Afkiran off the ground by the silk threads that bound him and carried him screaming up and away into the lower limbs of the dark trees. . . (Copyright 2018, John M. Whalen)

What happens next? Well, that would be telling.  You can order the book by clicking here. Later, friends.