Every 4th of July I used to repost the blog I wrote back in 2012 celebrating the holiday and humorist Jean Shepherd’s classic tale “Ludlow Kissell and the Dago Bomb that Struck Back.” Ludlow Kissell was a drunk who accidentally set off a huge firework that blew up part of Shepherd’s neighborhood when he was a kid. It’s a hilarious story. And when I posted it I used to note that despite the bad things that have happened over the years, America was still America, and the Fourth was something to celebrate. This year I really couldn’t do it. Too much has happened and is happening.

The U.S. is being torn apart from within. Divisiveness is destroying the fabric of our society. There isn’t an issue that isn’t a source of contention and conflict. Gun control, abortion, unproven claims of election fraud. Tempers are hot. Making them even hotter is non-stop inflation robbing everyone’s wallet, the insane prices of gasoline at the pump, a stock market teetering on the edge of a crash, fears of a recession. Holiday travelers stuck for hours at airports. Flights canceled.

Even today. Six people watching a 4th of July parade killed by a sniper in Highland Park, Ill.

President Biden seems powerless to stop any of it. Perhaps the image that best illustrates the peril that this nation faces is the picture of the last airliner leaving the airport in Afghanistan as America pulled out. Filled to capacity the aircraft ran down the runway with desperate people clinging to the wheels of the plane, trying to get away from disaster.

The Afghans are us. We’re all trying to hang on. Hanging on to the hope that somehow we’re going to get out of this. It won’t be easy. But as Jean Shepherd, always a realist who knew how tough life can be, always said: “Keep your knees loose, and your duff close to the ground. And don’t forget your helmet.”

Over a hundred years ago, legendary director Fritz Lang (“Metropolis”) collaborated with German novelist Thea von Harbou to write the script for a four-hour classic of the German Cinema called “The Indian Tomb” (1921). It is a wild story full of adventure and Indian mysticism unlike anything done before or since. It’s the story of a maharaja who raises a yogi from his grave to bring a British architect to India to build a tomb for his lady love. The architect jumps at the chance to build something on the order of the Taj Mahal but has second thoughts when he finds the princess isn’t dead. Instead she’s alive and being held prisoner in the maharaja’s palace. He plans to bury her alive for having betrayed his love with a British military man. Director Joe May built some gigantic, incredible-looking sets and gives the film a slow, steady, downright hypnotic pace, that has a mesmerizing effect.

Click here to read my full review over at Cinema Retro.

There have been quite a few Hollywood obituaries in the news lately. Movie actors, and other celebrities–some big stars, some not so big– seem to be dropping like flies. Ray Liotta, William Hurt, Gilbert Gottfried, Robert Morse, Naomi Judd, to name a few. But a death notice announced May 29 hit me kind of personally. Character actor Bo Hopkins, perhaps most known for his portrayal of Crazy Lee in Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH, passed away at age 84, following a heart attack earlier in the month.

Hopkins appeared in dozens of films over the years, with his most successful period occurring in the mid seventies. He had parts in THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN, MACHO CALLAHAN, MONTE WALSH, THE GETAWAY, THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING, AMERICAN GRAFFITI, THE DAY OF THE LOCUST, and others. For me, one of his most memorable roles was gunman/security agent Jerome Miller, the third member of the team James Caan hires to protect an Asian leader in exile in THE KILLER ELITE. In one scene, in a script written by veteran screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, Caan’s character, Mike Locken and Miller are on a hill overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, with Miller limbering up his automatic rifle out in broad daylight. Locken calls Miller: “The patron poet of the manic depressives.” When they drive into Chinatown in a taxi tricked out with armor plate and bullet proof glass to take custody of the Asian politician, Miller and his team member Mac (Burt Young) assess the situation. Locken tells Mac to watch the street, and gives the rooftops to Miller. “Love to work them down angles,” Jerome says. It’s a totally cool movie and Hopkins was cool without even breaking a sweat.

I mentioned that the news of his death affected me personally. The fact is I met Bo Hopkins and had a chance to hang out with him for part of a day. It was in 2009 and my wife and I drove out to what was called a Hopalong Cassidy Reunion. I don’t think they hold these reunions anymore but back then they would hold sort of a min-convention of cowboy movie actors in Cambridge, Ohio, near where William Boyd, the real Hopalong Cassidy was born. I didn’t realize until we got there that there would be some celebrities in attendance. Edd (Kookie) Byrnes of 77 Sunset Strip fame was there. I believe I mentioned in an earlier blog that I asked him what he was doing these days, and he replied “Whatever the hell I want.” Guys dressed up like the Lone Ranger and Tonto were in attendance. A couple of Hoppy look-alikes as well. To my surprise I found Bo Hopkins in the auditorium sitting at a table signing photos and shaking hands with fans. I went over to talk to him and found him to be the nicest guy you’d ever meet. I purchased a couple of pics from him and he didn’t even mind, when requested, repeating the line in The Wild Bunch that he’s most known for. It was a kick to be there and hear him say: “How’d you like to kiss my sister’s black cat’s ass?” His dying last words in The Wild Bunch. I met up with him again out on the streets of Columbus and that night there was an outdoor barbecue with some prizes given away. Bo got on stage and gave one of the best James Dean impersonations I’ve ever seen.

Old Bo was one of the last few survivors of The Wild Bunch, which I consider to be the greatest western film ever made. I guess LQ Jones may be THE LAST LIVING SURVIVOR. But even more than that, Bo represents for me the end of an era, a time and a place, a world that has slowly disappeared around us. The Wild Bunch rode off at the end of film only as memories, phantoms, after an unforgettable and bloody battle, just as we ourselves are slowly becoming memories and phantoms. The winds of time long ago began unraveling the very fabric of our lives, thread by thread. And so it is. A tip of the sombrero to you, Crazy Lee! Pass the bottle!

A man is framed for murder and goes on the run. He goes to sea to escape his pursuers and has a nightmare about a beautiful woman and a certain ancient talisman that will help him obtain justice. When he meets the woman and finds the talisman he thinks his problems will be easily solved. But they only lead to a darker nightmare– darker than anything he could ever have imagined.

Sound like the plot of a film noir? It’s actually the plot of my latest novel, TRAGON OF RAMURA, a sword and sorcery noir, if you will–possibly the first ever. Reviewers have noted the influences of Robert E . Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs in the book, but there’s another author whose work was of equal influence. Strange as it may seem, David Goodis’ novel, “Dark Passage,” was one of the inspirations for “Tragon of Ramura.”

Goodis wrote a number of dark, pulpy crime novels in the 1950s, that usually featured men caught in the snares of overpowering women. In “Dark Passage” Vincent Parry escapes from San Quentin where he’s serving time for the murder of his wife. He goes on the run and has plastic surgery done on his face so he won’t be recognized and tries to prove his innocence. Goodis set up two female characters for Parry to contend with outside prison– one his savior and the other his doom. (If this sounds familiar, there was a movie starring Humphrey Bogart based on the book that you might have seen.)

In “Tragon of Ramura” the hero flees the island kingdom of his birth and the sorcerer/villain who has framed him for the murder of the King of Ramura. Tragon is a captain in the Ramuran Navy and sails his ship, the Orion, to hide in a dark world of strange creatures and stranger places. In “Tragon of Ramura” the two female characters in “Dark Passage” are combined in Sai-Ul-San, the high priestess of an ancient cult. She is both Tragon’s lover and his downfall. As Parry underwent transformation by means of plastic surgery, Tragon undergoes a ritual grotesquely named the Ceremony of Life and his disembodied spirit is torn from his body and confined in the Tower of Lost Souls from which there is no escape. The novel climaxes in an action-packed spectacle that ends a story that began more than a thousand years ago.

If you’re looking from something a little different from the usual sword and sorcery or noir crime thriller check out “Tragon of Ramura,” available from Amazon in Kindle ebook or paperback by clicking here. 

When Trappist Monk Ambrose (Marty Feldman) is told by Brother Thelonious (Alfred Hyde-White), the abbot of the monastery, that he must go out into the world to raise $5,000 to pay off the church’s landlord, he begs him not to make him go. Ambrose was left on the monastery’s doorstep as an infant and has never set foot out in the real world. Universal’s “In God We Trust” (1980) is the story of what happens when a totally innocent character confronts a corrupt world, including and especially those who commercialize and capitalize on religion. In another sense, it’s also the story of Marty Feldman, the British comedian with the bulging eyeballs who believed you could tell the truth and make jokes about society’s sacred cows and not pay a price for it.

Read my review today over at Cinema Retro.

Sunday May 15 we will have a full moon eclipse called the Blood Moon at 25 degrees Scorpio. Joe Biden has the Sun, Venus Ascendant and Mercury all together at that point in the zodiac. It is an ominous transit for the leader of a country, especially one under as much pressure as he is and at such an advanced age. He should take the best care of his health that he can. I hope his security staff is on its toes over the whole weekend as well and the early part of next week too. The lunar eclipse also makes a hard square aspect to the Moon in the horoscope of the United States, which could indicate an emotional shock to the people is coming. Let’s hope it’s not a tragic event that occurs but something positive that wakes people up to the need for cooperation instead of dissension.

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In a long lifetime of eating breakfast, I guess I have to say when I can’t have eggs and bacon, Cheerios is my preferred breakfast cereal. Cornflakes comes in second, and Puffed Wheat third.

So I’ve eaten a lot of Cheerios over the years. But it had been a while since I’d eaten any and last week I picked up a box at the supermarket. Imagine my shock when I poured out those toasted “o’s” made out of oats, and saw instead something totally unexpected. Instead of O’s, the Cheerios were shaped like hearts.

I suppose the idea is to support the claim that Cheerios is a heart-healthy cereal. A reminder that every spoonful you shovel in your mouth is beneficial to your cardio vascular system. I checked on the Cheerios website and found that it’s a “limited edition” of the product. Glad to hear that.

To whom it may concern at General Mills. I like my Cheerios to look like O’s. They’ve always been shaped that way. After all, they’re called Cheeri-Os, not Cheeri-hearts.

Let’s say Putin is Ming the Merciless, Evil Emperor of Mongo. And Zelensky is Flash Gordon. In the movies Flash defeats Ming. But he didn’t do it by himself. He had help. The Hawkmen, The Lionmen, Prince Baron and the Arboreans all united and helped Flash defeat the evil emperor. Zelensky needs help. But in real life there are no Hawkmen, or Lionmen. Just frightened world leaders. Afraid of Ming and what he might do. He has weapons worse than the Destructo Ray. So in real life Flash is going to have to win this one by himself.

Flash. Ah-ah! Save everyone of us!

Flash

Ah-ah

King of the impossible

He’s for every one of us

Stand for every one of us

He’ll save with a mighty hand

Every man, every woman, every child with a mighty Flash

Flash

Ah-ah

(Gordon’s alive)

Flash

Ah-ah

He’ll save every one of us

Northrop Frye’s “Anatomy of Criticism” maintains that all stories are about a quest for identity. Identity, he says, is derived from one’s position in society and in stories with a happy ending, a character starts out in isolation but eventually finds his place in society. That’s the story of the young hero who rises from obscurity, finds the girl of his dreams, overcomes obstacles and lives happily ever after. Tragic stories are about characters who start out with an established identity but lose because of some character flaw and end up totally isolated or dead. Like Macbeth or Hamlet.

Kino Lorber Studio Classics recently released a double feature on Blu-Ray of a couple of low-budget westerns from the 50’s starring Anthony Quinn that surprisingly, despite their humble origins, demonstrate pretty clearly what Frye meant. “The Man from Del Rio” (1956), and “The Ride Back” (1957) are not your typical westerns. Read my review today over on Cinema Retro.

Today over on Cinema Retro, I review “SHOWDOWN” (1973), an old-school western starring Rock Hudson and Dean Martin. It’s a tale of friends torn apart by fate. Martin is a train robber and Hudson the sheriff of Cumbres, N.M. A showdown is inevitable. Hudson and Martin seem tired and worn at this point in their careers, but their weariness adds a certain gravitas to the film. The western genre was dying. Click here to read the review.