Friday, April 26, 2019


Spoiler free review.

Fans who stuck it out for 10 years and 21 movies will find Avengers: Endgame a rewarding climax to what Marvel Studios is now referring to as “The Infinity Saga.” Reunions and farewells are necessary when on-going story arcs are closed, brief revisits to memorable moments in past entries are restaged and for a large number of superheroes, much-needed emotional and psychological closure. If the first film last year focused on infinity, this movie centers on finality. Marvel made the wise decision to hold back all of the gimmicks (often referred to as “spoilers” if revealed before the screening) and the trailers promoting the film – for the most part – gave away only scenes from the first 20 minutes of the movie. Mystery abound, fans are spending what might be $1 billion globally this weekend to discover how the saga comes to a close.

Whereas Avengers: Infinity War was a light-hearted romp with Olympic-style competition to prevent Thanos from acquiring possession of all six infinity stones, the most powerful elements of the cosmos, then emotionally stabbing us in the back with the villain winning and half of all sentient life in the universe destroyed, Avengers: Endgame accomplishes the exact opposite. Five years after “the Decimation,” also referred to as “the snap,” the world is solemn, bleak and depressing. Not everyone has found a way to move on and the world is not a balanced garden of Eden as Thanos hoped for. Some, such as Hawkeye, who took on the persona of Ronin, found guidance where there is chaos. Others sought counseling. Our heroes got used to winning every battle that they forgot how to lose, so they took their ball and went home… Dark, somewhat depressing at times, the film picks up momentum where a shining beacon of optimism gives our heroes something once again to fight for. The ultimate goal is to return everything – and everyone – back and undo the Decimation. Twenty minutes into the movie they learn the hard way that rushing into action on emotion will not provide closure. All of which can be gathered from watching the trailers, but to reveal anything more would be providing spoilers. Needless to say, our heroes will prevail even if not in the way they expected.

Like any well-thought plan, the process by which the superheroes maneuver through a web of familiar storylines does not go according to design, only leading to an expected climatic battle sequence against Thanos. Their success, however, comes not from strength in numbers but from their heart. In a cinematic buildup where all roads led to the closing chapter, the real beauty of this three-hour spectacle is not good vs. bad, but rather how a number of iconic superheroes find redemption amidst chaos. Throughout the pit of despair, the bravest and best of us discover the valuable lesson to be who we are, not who we are expected to be.

There is no post-credits sequence but there are scenes of past Marvel movies during the closing credits to acknowledge the actors and their decade-long participation, closing the chapter on what became an entertaining – and extremely profitable – franchise. We can almost predict the direction of future installments, those grounded such as Spider-Man and Shang-Chi, and the majority exploring cosmic potentials, but one has to wonder as a result of three key and noticeable scenes in Avengers: Endgame whether or not the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to be influenced not by product placement or focus groups, but rather by choosing a political stance on contemporary issues.

While both Infinity War and Endgame were scripted and directed back-to-back by the Russo brothers, Endgame comes off like a completely separate movie from the first. Summed up in one sentence, Avengers: Endgame is an entertaining movie, but it is not Infinity War.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Shazam! is a Pleasant Surprise

When watching any movie I ask for one of two things. Impress me or entertain me. The movie trailer for Shazam! was misleading, giving me the impression the film was going to be something scripted by Seth Rogen. The first half of the trailer looked intriguing and then, an immature juvenile in a grown man’s body suggested a terrible comedy. For three weeks I hesitated while a few friends recommended I check out the film, all expressing a common denominator: most of the film’s comedy was confined to the movie trailer. They swore it was played serious. And for the most part, they were correct.

Overlooking the deliberate product placement of Batman and Superman merchandise in the toy store where Shazam and Dr. Sivana exchange combat blows, the film provides a couple surprises that I cannot reveal without providing spoilers…. Needless to say Shazam! turned out to be the most entertaining film of the year to date.

The events take place in Philadelphia (avoiding Superman’s Metropolis) where young Billy Batson finds himself placed in a new foster home, makes a new friend, Freddy, and finds himself selected by the Wizard Shazam to be his new champion against the forces of evil. Now endowed with the ability to instantly become an adult superhero by speaking the wizard's name, Billy gleefully explores his new powers with Freddy, the latter of whom knows more about the superhero game than Billy himself. When the world is threatened by the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, who was rejected by the wizard and instead accepted the power of the Seven Deadly Sins, Billy finds himself growing up and accepting responsibility quicker than most children his age.

The film is loaded with more in-jokes and pop culture references than you can catch in a single viewing. During the fight in the toy store, Shazam runs across and pauses a moment to tab a few notes on a giant floor piano/keyboard, an obvious reference to the movie Big (1988), in which a young boy also turned into an adult. Fawcett Central High School was named after Fawcett Comics, the company that originally created the Captain Marvel character in 1939.

If you are unable to acquire tickets to Avengers: Endgame this weekend, or simply waiting for the hype and crowds to die down so you can watch the three-hour epic with less than crowded conditions, I am certain Shazam! will satisfy your superhero craving this weekend… proving that sometimes we need to stop judging a movie by the trailer.

Friday, April 19, 2019


As part of the ongoing Recreational Shakespeare series, the Bard’s stage plays as presented in all forms of mass media from Amsterdam University Press, Michael P. Jensen’s study on radio (especially in 1937 when CBS and NBC both competed with a similar series) is as in-depth as you will find such treatment. While Shakespeare plays were adapted for Radio Guild, Suspense, The Family Theatre and The Chase and Sanborn Hour, to name a few, it was during the summer of 1937 that both CBS and NBC deployed their best resources to appropriate Shakespeare’s prestige and the print media quickly described the two networks attempts with the nomenclature of boxing. 

“These fourteen broadcasts are among the more remarkable recreations of Shakespeare of their time,” Jensen write. His lengthy essay, defending that statement, is clear and concise.

As is often the case, every book about old-time radio comes across my desk at one time or another and I manage to find time to read them – and such books as this become delights to read after I dig into a few pages. Much like sitting in on a slide show presentation at a convention where the subject matter was only casually interesting, the material provided to the masses is extremely fascinating and attention-grabbing. Michael P. Jensen's book accomplishes the same feat.

The first chapter of this book, following an introduction to the history of radio broadcasting, surveys Shakespeare broadcasts in the United States prior to the 1937 competition and why the networks presented heavily abridged adaptations in brief time slots. The second and third chapter introduces the battle and why the two rival networks were so angry that each wanted to lord Shakespeare’s prestige over the other, how they put the series together with top-notch talent, and both critical reception and analysis for each radio broadcast. 

NBC’s Streamlined Shakespeare starred John Barrymore and was later recycled for use on a summer 1950 run titled John Barrymore and Shakespeare, often creating confusion among collectors who sought the original network broadcasts. This series was also used for commercial release on records. (Many schools played these recordings for students in the classroom.) CBS’s Columbia Shakespeare Cycle attempted to combat the signing of John Barrymore with NBC by hiring stars from Hollywood – so many stars that newspapers of the time had more press releases than they could use. 

Chapters four and five provide closure to the 1937 battle and a fascinating story of how all the hoopla did not bring the prestige the combatants craved. Jensen also digs into other radio adaptations for comparison. As with many books about old-time radio, even if you are not into the 1937 Shakespeare adaptations, the history of the network battle is equally fascinating and kudos for Michael P. Jensen for digging into the story. 

My only complaint is the retail price. At a list price of $69 for a book totaling 89 pages (and that includes index), I fear this book will only make the rounds through college and university libraries. You can buy the book at $59 on Amazon through the link below:

Behind the Mask: The Making of Republic's Lone Ranger Serials

In addition to being the most profitable chapter play in the 20-year-history of Republic Pictures — generating more than $1.1 million in worldwide revenue — The Lone Ranger (1938) set new standards of excellence for motion pictures adapted from characters originating in other media. It was a genuine phenomenon, securing bookings from major theater circuits and big-city picture palaces at the time when serials mostly played during Saturday matinees in small-town movie houses. Along with their success at box offices, both The Lone Ranger and its 1939 sequel, The Lone Ranger Rides Again, added considerably to the lore and evolution of this beloved hero of American pop culture. 

A new book, Behind the Mask: The Making of Republic's Lone Ranger Serials, is a profusely illustrated monograph thanks to film historian Ed Hulse who presents a comprehensive, heretofore untold, behind-the-scenes history of the production for both serials. It has been extensively researched from recently uncovered documents buried deep in the files of George W. Trendle and attorney Raymond Meurer, the former a broadcasting magnate whose Detroit radio station WXYZ was the Lone Ranger's birthplace and home for more than two decades. Hulse reviewed hundreds of archival pages — private letters, legal correspondence, inter-office memos, studio production reports, even the original 1937 contract between Trendle and Republic — culling from them all pertinent details relating to the making of both serials and the first's 1940 feature version, Hi-Yo Silver

To this material Ed Hulse added information gleaned from his own interviews of principal participants: co-director William Witney, head writer Barry Shipman, stunt double Yakima Canutt, and cast members Herman Brix, George Letz (Montgomery), and Sammy McKim. In short, Ed dug into the archives and did a lot of research, making this a spectacular, comprehensive and accurate study of the serials.

The book also sports dozens of illustrations: rare stills, posters, advertisements, lobby cards, magazine covers, and production documents. 

You can order a copy from through the link below and the $12 price is a bargain. If you are a fan of The Lone Ranger or serials in general, this is worthy of acquisition.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Tom Quest and the Mystery of the Timber Giant

Beginning in 1947 there was an explosion of boys' adventure books from Grosset & Dunlap, publishers, which included the premiere of Rick Brant, Bronc Burnett, Chip Hilton and the first of a series of eight Tom Quest novels, penned by Fran Striker. Yes, the same man responsible for creating The Lone Ranger created new characters for a series of novels that took readers to the Florida Everglades, combatted headhunters in Ecuador, went on an expedition into Mexico where they found a lost city peopled by survivors of a prehistoric race, and witnessed the strange rites among the Mandan Indians in the Red River country. 

The Sign of the Spiral (1947) was the first of the eight Tom Quest novels, introducing us to the cast of characters who were to appear in most of the adventures, including Whiz Walton (a newspaper man) and Gulliver, the unwaveringly loyal with tremendous strength and raw courage. Of recent I finished reading the eighth and final adventure in the series, The Mystery of the Timber Giant (1955). Why Fran Striker did not write additional novels remains unknown. The first six novels were published by Grosset & Dunlap; the final two were published by Clover Books. (The first six were also reprinted by Clover.) Timber Giant concerns Tom Quest's efforts to thwart a crooked lumber scheme operated by a "big boss" syndicate that tricks good people in the lumber region into cutting down pine and redwood without having to pay them the money promised under contract. Tom, Whiz and Gulliver attempt to put a stop to it, through three harrowing escapades. 

Besides the nineteen Lone Ranger novels, Fran Striker also wrote one Roy Rogers and one Gene Autry novel. Gene Autry and the Redwood Pirates (1946) was published by Whitman. Striker wrote under the pseudonym of Bob Hamilton. In that novel, Gene and his horse, Champ, find plenty of trouble as soon as they get into the redwood country to investigate a rumor about a gang who is pirating timber in the forests along the Chicapoo River. Sound familiar?

Not too surprisingly, the Gene Autry novel recycles the plots from a three-part story arc on radio's Lone Ranger program, broadcast December 13, 15 and 17, 1943.

And yes, this Tom Quest novel recycles the same material from both.

In my pursuit to find everything recycled from radio's The Lone Ranger, connecting the dots, names such as Ponderosa Pete, Lefty Lennex, Gimp Gordon, Zach Vinton, Clem Archer and Halfpint Hoolihan were used for other characters on prior Lone Ranger radio broadcasts, as well as names of towns such as Telegraph Hill, Snake River and the Dipper Creek lumber camp.

Regardless of this recent discovery, the eight Tom Quest novels are fun reads. Average price for the hardcover novels is $5 to $10 depending on the condition of the books. The first editions did not have the art printed on the book, but rather clothbound with paper dust jacket. Those first editions (with dust jackets) are the ones worth more and the price is based on the condition of the dust jacket. If you come across these adventures at collector shows or shop on Amazon, use this as a price gauge.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Two Book Reviews

Vic and Sade on Radio book
I was first exposed to the long-running radio program Vic and Sade, not through radio, but through television. While watching an episode of the Colgate Comedy Hour, a live television program from the early fifties, I noticed a cast of unknowns performing the roles of a family who lived "halfway up the next block" and a brief announcement that Vic and Sade had been done prior on radio. About that time, Radio Spirits released a bookshelf album of audio cassettes for Vic and Sade and my curiosity was piqued so I bought the set. It took a bit of adjustment to understand the formula of the radio comedy -- a style of wit that doesn't always agree with everyone -- especially those who expect insults and slapstick. Vic and Sade is an acquired taste and the more you listen to them, the more you grow fond of it.

Flash forward a year or two later when, at REPS in Seattle, I met a couple people who were fanatics for the radio program and there I was exposed to the legend and lore of Vic and Sade. Half of what was told to me went in one ear and out the other -- dirty gossip and stories about hoarders -- but the gist was clear: there were recordings of Vic and Sade (and radio scripts) that were being hoarded and regarded as national treasures. "Why are they not available to fans in the hobby?" I asked. The reasons varied and I simply let things go as they are. Half the fun of collecting old radio programs was seeking out recordings I did not have in my collection. I would continue to seek copies from various collectors. To date, I have over 400 radio scripts and almost as many radio programs in my collection -- enough to last me another decade of enjoyment before I exhaust my collection.

Just recently McFarland mailed me a complimentary copy of John T. Hetherington's new book, Vic and Sade: A Cultural History of Paul Rhymer's Daytime Series, 1932-1944. The subtitle pretty much sums up the book. Growing from his love for Vic and Sade, the author explores some of the deeper meanings and themes beneath the absurdity and humor. A brief biography about Paul Rhymer and the origin and early years of Vic and Sade are included within the pages. A study of mass culture during the 1930s and 1940s and how it influenced the characters on Vic and Sade, is explored in detail. A history of motion-pictures during the era, reading on the porch, community service and other aspects are explored as they relate to the radio program. The closing chapter covers an aspect of the series that has been undocumented in prior publications: the later efforts to revive the series -- including the Colgate Comedy Hour.

This book features a history of the radio program, but only interlaced throughout the book, sprinkled with excerpts of script reprints. There is no episode guide or chronological documentation with a date-by-date broadcast schedule (network, broadcast time, cast changes, etc.). I know that would be a major challenge to the author, but since so many radio scripts and recordings exist in collector hands, I would assume taking on such a challenge would be both exhausting and rewarding. Such efforts would overshadow others such as the late Bill Idelson, a cast member, who wrote The Story of Vic and Sade in 2007 for Bear Manor Media, and a book of scripts published prior. 

If what you are seeking is a "cultural history," in what many describe as a "critical analysis," which McFarland statistically publishes more of every year, or want to explore the program deeper than it has ever been explored, this is a great book. If you are looking for a historical perspective of documentary nature, covering minute details ranging from the sale of screen rights, salary costs and exclusive memories and recollections from cast and crew, this is not the book.

One such example: pages 106 to 108 are devoted to the history of motion-pictures and the industry of Hollywood. Vic and Sade is referenced on page 109. And the two photographs on page 108 and 109 are of old movie palaces and theaters from 1935 and 1939 -- and have nothing to do with the radio program Vic and Sade. I only criticize (briefly) because the title of the book is Vic and Sade on Radio.

Still, if you are a fan of Vic and Sade, this is a book for you to take to the beach and enjoy.

The Remarkable Enid Markey by Brian J. Bohnett

Billed as "The First Lady of the Tarzan Films," Enid Markey had a career spanning over six decades. From the silent days of the silver screen, to Broadway and the legitimate theatre, to television and radio... this book features an extensive biography about the actress and documents every facet of her acting career. As a fan of old-time radio, it is a treat to see radio broadcasts documented in a book that isn't primarily focused on radio... and suggests the author did his research. There are more than 300 photographs in this book, reprints of newspaper clippings, studio publicity photos, press books and much more. Brian Bohnett, the author, is an active member of the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society, and also a member of the Burroughs Bibliophiles -- an organization which awarded him the Edgar Rice Burroughs Achievement Award in 2003 for his work in writing and publishing. A graphic designer and illustrator by trade, Brian took to self-publishing this book under his Mad Kings Publishing label. As a result, this book is not widely available through the major circuits. You pretty much have to seek out across the internet to find and purchase a copy of the book. I was told the copy sent to me was among the last in stock so by the time you read this, the book may already be out of print. But do not hesitate seeking it out.

A couple years ago I met a man who once expressed displeasure in purchasing any books self-published because, as he believed, this meant the book was never worthy enough for a major publishing house to consider snatching it up. This is a misconception as I find many self-published reference guides are better than the ones that are published from a major house. It all depends on the author of that book. My only regret is that books on other silent screen actors and actresses have never received such extensive coverage as Enid Markey received. Great job, Brian!