Thursday, January 21, 2021

One More River by Fran Striker

In 1993, Fran Striker Jr. published a novel titled One More River, a thrilling tale of the wild wild west. His father, co-creator of The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, worked on the novel for the last 15 years of his life. In spite of Striker's demanding requirements to script radio programs and Lone Ranger and Tom Quest novels, he still made the time, and found the energy, for the exhaustive research, planning, plotting, writing and revising of One More River. "He wanted it to be the best fiction he ever created, for after a lifetime of spinning tales for juveniles, River was to be for an adult audience," Striker, Jr. explained. Unfortunately, Striker died in a car crash in 1962 before seeing his job to completion. So in 1993, Striker, Jr. pulled out the dusty manuscript and self-published the novel -- the only non-Lone Ranger western story to originate from the Striker typewriter.

The origin of this novel dates back to September 1945, when Striker penned a four-episode story arc on The Lone Ranger radio program, concerning The Camel Brigade, a project commissioned by the U.S. Army. From 1857 to 1860, the feasibility of using camels for military purposes on the western deserts was tested, with encouraging results, at and near Fort Davis in Southwest Texas. The United States National Museum has on display the mounted skeleton of a camel that died at Fort Tejon, California. This is the only remaining physical evidence of the War Department's Camel Brigade. 

Jefferson Davis fought as a colonel during the war against Mexico, then went to Congress as a United States Senator from Mississippi. In Washington he spent much of his time interviewing military officials in the hope of finding a means to speed the delivery of supplies to the isolated outposts in the southwestern frontier. To connect the forts strung out across the Indian country, Army sentiment favored the construction of a road from San Antonio to Southern California. Senator Davis knew that congress would reject such a proposal because of the high cost and because the road would have to be built under conditions of combat with hostile Indians. He favored a suggestion that came from major Henry C. Wayne. Wayne had read about the dromedary artillery used by the French Army in Algeria. He believed that camels would solve the problem of transportation in the Southwest. Senator Davis, after exhaustive research and study, plunged whole-heartedly into plans for a camel brigade. 


In 1855, both houses of Congress passed an Army appropriation bill which carried an amendment earmarking $30,000 to be spent under the direction of the War Department for buying and importing camels. Courtesy of a brochure from the Ft. Davis National Historic Site, Striker conceived of a four-part radio adventure in which The Lone Ranger assisted the camel brigade as they ventured from Southern Texas to California. This was the historical info Striker used to compose the September 1945 radio story arc, which in turn was adapted into the 1948 Grosset & Dunlap novel, The Lone Ranger and the Silver Bullet.

Striker later recycled the historic details, added a romantic triangle between two men and one beautiful woman, and fashioned a new novel about The Camel Brigade. One More River contained no reference to The Lone Ranger and Tonto, and avoided the three criminal elements from the 1948 Lone Ranger novel to form a more adult approach involving murder, torture and bloodshed. he Striker novel borrowed many historical elements and figures for use in One More River, to create what followed the formula of a 1950s Universal Studios Technicolor western. Names of fictional characters from The Lone Ranger radio programs were recycled, as was subplots from the September 1945 radio story arc. The torments and privations that taxed human endurance to the limit -- ranging from hostile Indians, dying of thirst in the desert, to men killing each other in an effort to survive -- trying hope and despair, famine and feast, salvation and violent death -- the wagon train and cavalry company from Fort Defiance went through numerous escapades to cross the summer desert and the Colorado River.    

The novel comes recommended if you can find a copy. Three different printings (hardcover and paperback) exist and the price is not steep (no doubt because of the lack of demand for such a novel). Fans of The Lone Ranger have often expressed surprise when they learn that Striker wrote a non-Lone Ranger western novel. If you are a fan of western fiction, this is perhaps one of the best I have read in more than a decade.

Friday, January 15, 2021

THE NEW MUTANTS (Movie Review)

After a few years of corporate complications, The New Mutants was finally released to movie theaters -- ironically during the pandemic when studios were holding back distribution of their motion-pictures. When I first saw the movie trailers a few years back, I was instantly intrigued. Twentieth Century Fox, however, kept pushing back the release date and then Disney's purchase of the Fox studio caused yet another delay.

Five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, fight to escape their past sins and save themselves. The most recent resident, Dani Moonstar, has yet to discover her super power but the solution to the mystery is what supernatural forces is making the hospital into a haunted house. 

Based on a series of comic books published by Marvel, and set in the world of X-Men, this movie was meant to tie-in with the present-day X-Men movies produced by Fox. Regrettably, while this movie was produced with a low budget (a primary cast of six and TV budget special effects), the only takeaway is verification that Fox cannot produce good superhero movies -- but Fox does know how to produce a good horror movie. 

A hybrid of the two genres, The New Mutants is a fun film if you can get back the slow first half -- with a climatic battle of our inner demons... literally.

Of all the films released in 2020, this comes in a good second behind the spectacular Tenet that came out in 2020. But with few films to receive a theatrical release in the past year, that does not say much. 


Thursday, January 7, 2021

COMIQUE: The Classic Comedy Magazine


Thanks to Paul E. Gierucki for bringing this to my attention via Facebook, I am forwarding the news as Paul presented:

 

Rather than remain idle through 2020, many researchers/historians/authors decided to create a magazine devoted to the classic slapstick comedians of celluloid past. COMIQUE is described as The Classic Comedy Magazine and features a number of fascinating articles. Never heard of COMIQUE? Nor did I. It seems this is a new venture and the very first issue is available for free. The writers and editors agreed in unison to give away the first issue in digital format. There are no printed copies, so you can click on the link below and download a free PDF of the magazine.

 

“We are hoping that this holiday offering will provide everyone with an entertaining diversion in what has otherwise been a complicated time for many,” Gierucki remarked. 

 

Among the articles are Lea Stans’ article about the busy career of Billy Bevan, Annette Lloyd’s essay about Harold Lloyd, Mary Mallory’s article about Franklin Pangborn’s early years, and an article co-written by Walt Mitchell and Paul E. Gierucki about “Abbott and Costello on Record.”

 

From Buster Keaton, Walker and Williams, The Hardy Family, and Shemp Howard, you will find articles covering many subjects you are familiar with. To be honest, I never knew of Dorothy Devore, a luminary of the two-reelers, courtesy of a great article by Joanna E. Rapf. William Malin has an article about an act of kindness by Groucho Marx, Dean Vanderkolk documented the career of Ed Simmons, television’s unsung comedy hero, and Tony Susnick has an article about Kalton C. Lahue titled “A Pioneering Historian Remembered.”

 

If there is enough interest, the gang will publish future issues of COMIQUE, at irregular intervals, and eventually offer printed archival editions for sale. 

 

If anyone who downloads the free magazine wants to financially contribute a small donation, they have a Paypal account at BrittanyJane99@hotmail.com

 

To download your copy, click here:

https://archive.org/details/ComiqueMagazine1



Friday, January 1, 2021

Wonder Woman 84 Pays Homage to the Classics

It will come as no surprise that the latest Wonder Woman movie, WW84, is a throwback to the superhero movies of the early eighties. Warner/D.C. has made it obvious over the last decade that motion pictures not only need to incorporate branding from a commercial prospective, but decisions made for the finished product are based on demographics. With nostalgia now deemed necessary for a fan base that populates the Marvel Cinematic Universe and TV productions on Netflix (i.e. Stranger Things), someone at Warners clearly wanted the latest Wonder Woman to pay homage to the generation that grew up with Christopher Reeve as Superman.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Regrettably, the film was poorly promoted. Had the advertising campaign avoided the rainbow colors and gold-plated armor that dominated the movie posters, but instead provided the slogan, "The Wonder Woman movie that would have been made in 1984," the expectations of theater goers would have generated positive reviews. As such, the movie is being criticized for numerous flaws (both equally and accurately justified).

The opening scene in the American mall in which Wonder Woman combats a group of zany eighties-style bumbling jewel robbers is a loving tribute to the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve. Kristen Wiig's portrayal of Barbara Minerva, a.k.a. Wonder Woman's arch nemesis Cheetah, starts off with her impersonation of Richard Pryor (ala Superman III), in the scene that follows. 

After which the film becomes too rushed, too gimmicky, a tad chaotic, and comes off like three separate film scripts chopped up and reassembled into a single two-and-one-half-hour action flick. Lots of plot holes, leaving behind unexplained questions, and a couple WTF moments that make you wonder why they devoted a few minutes of screen time to make Wonder Woman do something (avoiding a plot spoiler) that harkens back to a Helen Slater-Supergirl moment that is pointless and unnecessary. To be fair, there are a couple enjoyable action sequences, especially the fight sequence in the White House, which provides enough screen time to warrant some enjoyment.

Love it or leave it, my only hope is that the next Wonder Woman movie avoids this pratfall and reverts back to the initial concept utilized in her recent screen appearances. The one positive factor that I have to report is the performance of Kristen Wiig as Cheetah. When I first heard she was cast for the role, my initial thought (along with others) was how she was mis-cast. Boy, was I wrong. Wiig not only shines but deserves a "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar nomination for her performance.

Kristen Wiig losing her innocence as she transforms into Cheetah.

Whether you watch this movie in the theaters, or on the HBO Max streaming platform, go in with an expectation of a movie paying homage to the early 1980s superhero flicks and you will enjoy the film more than I did. And do stay through the closing credits for one post-credits sequence that every fanboy, even those who disliked WW84, will confess was their favorite part in the movie.