Saturday, June 24, 2017

A June Night at the Cinema!

The heat of June has lifted somewhat, and while it's still warm, at least it's a bit drier and there's a pleasant breeze. We elect to sit at an outdoor table when we gather at the usual restaurant, and enjoy a light meal and stimulating conversation. As the sun declines into the west, we pay the bill and wander up the street to that shabby old theater with its comfortable seats....

The ticket-taker with the biceps gives us a stellar smile when we arrive; and we settle in our favorite seats for the show.

Tonight's movie is the 1936 thriller "Revolt of the Zombies"!



From the makers of the now-classic "White Zombie," this didn't do as well, largely because the filmmakers stuck to clunky silent-movie-style techniques that had grown even more outdated in the years since their initial film. However, those techniques now seem almost charming and quaint with the passage of time, and the film has obtained a minor lustre now that it lacked in its own day.

The show over, we start to wander up the street to our usual cafe....and hey, the ticket-taker says he'll join us in a little bit, after he closes up....

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

MEET THE TIGER by Leslie Charteris

So, here's another ongoing project: I plan on reviewing all of the Saint works. This particular book, however, occupies a unique netherworld.

Y'see, it's the book that introduces Simon Templar, aka "The Saint," his Cockney servant Orace, and Templar's girlfriend Patricia Holm. And yet in later years Charteris would all but disown Meet the Tiger, feeling there was too much wrong with it, and excluded it from the official chronology of the Saint...and yet later acknowledging that it was a seminal work for him.

So...what happens?

It's the late 1920s. Templar and Orace show up in the Devon town of Baycombe. Templar is 27, a seasoned adventurer who's been around the world and is independently wealthy. (If I recall correctly, later in the series it's revealed that he fought in WWI. But more about that as the series unfolds.) He knows that somewhere in the town is a dastardly criminal, The Tiger, who's hiding out there after an enormously profitable bank heist in the US, and has laundered the money in South Africa and is bringing it up here.

The problem is...he's never met The Tiger, and while dodging attempts on his life, he has to figure out who it is, as well as locate the loot. Templar meets Patricia, who is living there with her aunt, and falls in love with her fierce spirit. I loved this little quote from her: "I know it isn't going to be a picnic - but I'm sorry if you think I'm a girl that's only fit for picnics. I've always fancied myself as the heroine of a hell-for-leather adventure, and this is probably the only chance I shall ever have. And I'm jolly well going to see it through!" Stern stuff, she. In fact, I like how Charteris treats her. Of course, she's motivated by a love for Templar, but also very by a love of excitement and adventure. And at one point where she believes Templar to be dead, she and Orace take a deep breath and continue the operation themselves, with her ruthlessly going after the villains. She's a badass.

The villains are treated interestingly as well. The identity of The Tiger is kept secret until the very end, although a few times you learn that such-and-such a character definitely ISN'T The Tiger. Charteris avoids some of the ethnic bigotry of the day; none of the henchmen (whom he calls the Tiger Cubs) are caricatures, and one being a Boer is noted only in passing. But the Cubs obviously have minds of their own, and they're not just puppets of The Tiger.

It's a fun book, if with some flaws. Sometimes the style is a little clunky, there's a couple of very unlikely coincidences and things being just a little too convenient, and a plot point involving an impersonation that seems very unlikely. But at the same time, it's made clear that Templar and Patricia have sex in the novel (nothing explicit, but it's obvious), which is perhaps a bit eyebrow-raising, as the square-jawed British heroes of the day were generally very prudish. (More on the Saint and Patricia's relationship later....)

The bad part of this is that the book is hard to get hold of. Charteris' "official" Saint canon was recently made available again as ebooks, but Meet the Tiger was left out. You have to count on finding an old copy somewhere....mine is a 1952 Avon paperback. Worth hunting down a copy, especially for some good old-fashioned hell-for-leather adventure, which I think we need more of.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

June at the Phantom Recital Hall

It's a warm, rainy night in early June....and will this rain ever stop? It's been a horrendously wet season so far, and the jokes about washing mildew out of one's hair are already stale.

However, we're at the new recital hall at the university, where a piano student is giving a recital of Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit", which includes this eerie section...



Despite sounding like the name of a Clark Ashton Smith character, "Gaspard de la Nuit" is a three-movement suite by Ravel, each movement based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand. "Scarbo," the final piece, depicts a goblin dancing and pirouetting around the landscape, getting into mischief. It's considered one of the more difficult pieces in the standard repertoire....but yet this student handles it with ease. From whence came their unearthly talent?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

THE ANIMATED SKELETON by Anonymous

The first of a series of classic Gothic reprints from Valancourt, this is certainly amusing, if sometimes a chore. Published in 1798, it's probably a good example of the Gothics of the period, which were consumed like popcorn.

Set in France in the Dark Ages, it involves....well, a lot. You've got peasants on the run. You have corrupt nobles. You have good nobles in exile. You have a femme fatale in the form of the wicked Brunchilda. You have a haunted castle with a mischievous skeleton cutting capers.

It's full of plot and counterplot, and to try to recount it would be pointless as it's all a mad jumble. That being said, it's a FUN mad jumble, so utterly berserk and over-the-top that it's hard to take all that seriously. In fact, there's a vein of black comedy running through much of the supernatural doings, which I understand was fairly rare for the genre.

But at the same time, there's a lot that's interesting. It's free of the Catholic-bashing that so many Gothics indulged in; in fact, the clergy are quite heroic in this story. There's also a lot that's probably fairly typical of the genre, with people showing up in disguise, people lamenting their fates, characters dying because the author probably doesn't know what to do with them and/or needs to motivate his other characters, and an ending where the wicked are punished and the good rewarded. It's a mad tumult, fitting a lot into a dense 108 pages.

So, if you're interested, check it out. It's available in paperback and as an ebook. The Animated Skeleton

Sunday, May 21, 2017

THE HELLFIRE FILES OF JULES DE GRANDIN by Seabury Quinn

The fifth in Popular Library's 1970's reprinting of selected de Grandin stories, this is the usual assortment of tales featuring the dashing French phantom-fighter.

There's not much of a running theme here as there was in the last volume, but it's still fun pulp nonsense. Interestingly, two tales in this volume, "The Great God Pan" and "Mephistopheles and Company, Ltd.," are mundane mysteries with the trappings of the supernatural. "Pan" has de Grandin coming across a Greek revival cult with a criminal at its head, and "Mephistopheles" has him assisting a woman being victimized by fake psychics.

Of the supernatural tales, there's "The Devil-People," about a Malaysian woman being pursued by the Rakshasas of Indian folklore. It's an OK story but there's some mild racism and religious chauvinism that taint the enjoyment somewhat...but you have to accept that as part of the pulp canon, the nature of the beast.

"Restless Souls" is a vampire story, but better than Quinn's previous assays at the creature. In this one, a young, newly-made vampire is under the control of an older vampire, and must do their bidding, including luring a lonely man to his destruction. It's a good plot, if a bit overly romantic and dramatic (but hell, it's pulp) and holds together well.

"The Wolf of Saint Bonnot" is a bit of a problem. There's a seance at a weekend house-party, and of course something hideous is raised that victimizes one of the participants. However, it comes out of nowhere...there's no connection and no reason given for why the seance raised that particular spirit. It just does, randomly. I wasn't quite down with that...I do like a tidy logic to things like this, rather than someone being tormented by a spirit from another time and place simply at random. It's not good storytelling, if you ask me.

"The Hand of Glory" is probably the best of the lot, a tale of supernatural rivalry as an archaeologist is planning to raise an ancient goddess, but must also combat a rival who wants the relics for himself. It's enjoyable fluff, with some darkness as it becomes clear one of the main characters is more than happy to sacrifice a loved one to achieve his aims.

All in all, not bad, and I always enjoy de Grandin. And wouldn't you know it...just as I finished this, I found out that now all of Quinn's de Grandin stories, the entire canon, are to be reprinted, with the first volume out now. Dangit! More money to be spent!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

May at the Phantom Cabaret!

Between two shops, one selling martial arts supplies, the other a sub shop, is a narrow passage with a tiny sign indicating some sort of establishment lies back that way. Only the most discerning know of it...well, really, quite a few know, but few actually make the trouble to go there. We're going there tonight, in hopes of some good drinks and good music.

It turns out to be a lovely and elegant place, and with surprisingly reasonable prices. The staff greet us warmly and give us a good table where we can see the stage. The drinks and good and there's some unique creations on the menu. And then....the entertainment!



The music is impressive and we have a great time. We actually have a chance to chat with the performers (who, luckily, have access to a back entrance so they don't have to negotiate that narrow passage...).

And who are those folks at that other table, looking at us? Should we start a conversation?


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Happy Walpurgisnacht! And Happy Ninth Birthday!

Hope everyone's having a good time tonight, whatever you're doing! And I've been plugging away at this for nine years! Wow....