Saturday, November 15, 2014
Temple Tower (1929) was the sixth Bulldog Drummond novel and marked a departure from the series formula. Having killed Carl Peterson off at the conclusion of the fourth book and dealt with his embittered mistress Irma’s revenge scheme as the plot of the fifth book, Sapper took the series in an unexpected direction by turning to French pulp fiction for inspiration. Sapper also placed Hugh Drummond in a supporting role and elevated his loyal friend Peter Darrell to the role of narrator. The subsequent success of the venerable movie series and the future controversies generated by Sapper’s reactionary politics and bigotry obscured the versatility of his narratives and led to his being under-appreciated when considered with his peers. French pulp literature from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century was particularly rich. While Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas remain the best known French pulp authors of the era, Paul Feval’s highly influential swashbuckler, Le Bossu [“The Hunchback’] (1857) and his expansive criminal mastermind saga, Les Habits Noirs [“The Black Coats”] (1844 -1875) did much to set the stage for Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain’s long-running absurdist thriller series, Fantomas (1911 – 1963) as well as Arthur Bernede’s seminal masked avenger Judex (1916 – 1919). Pioneering French filmmaker, Louis Feuillade adapted both Fantomas and Judex to the silent screen as well as creating his own epic Apaches crime serial, Les Vampires (1915 - 1916). TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.
Friday, October 31, 2014
A couple weeks ago I finally read Mr. Towers of London, the posthumously published memoirs of Harry Alan Towers, the unflappable veteran British radio/TV/film writer-producer with well over a hundred works to his credit. It wasn’t Towers’ first stab at writing his memoirs, but this final work was notable as his most personal. Anyone who actually knows major figures in the entertainment industry is likely aware of some of the salacious stories of debauchery, sometimes even criminal activity that are never far from the surface. Towers’ memoirs are unique for being perhaps the most honest ever committed to print. If he pulls any punches or whitewashes any parts of his adventures, he can surely be forgiven for what he does dish out about himself or others. That said, the most disappointing part of the book for me is that he tells the reader very little about his experiences as a writer. I would have loved to have understood more about the more private side of his profession as the book places all of the emphasis on his role as a producer. Today, he is unfairly remembered as the producer of genre films and exploitation fare. While that accounted for much of his output after the 1960s, he was also a respected writer-producer of family drama who frequently cast some of the biggest stars in Hollywood in his radio, TV, and film productions. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.
Friday, October 24, 2014
My colleague Bob Byrne has already introduced many new readers to August Derleth’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek exploits of the unlikely-named Sherlock Holmes-inspired consulting detective, Solar Pons of Praed Street. Derleth loved tossing in nods to mystery works outside of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional universe. These included three memorable encounters with Sax Rohmer’s insidious Dr. Fu Manchu. “The Adventure of the Camberwell Beauty” was the first of the appearances to see publication in 1958. The story presents an unnamed Dr. Fu Manchu hiring the celebrated consulting detective to recover Karah, his beautiful young ward who has been abducted by his rival, Baron Corvus. The tale is set in the early 1930s and although the first chronicled, it is not our heroes’ first encounter with the Devil Doctor. Structured as a tribute to Rohmer’s 1933 novel, The Bride of Fu Manchu, the story reveals Karah (named for Rohmer’s Karamaneh) as the granddaughter of the Devil Doctor. Showing a nice bit of fidelity to Rohmer’s early tales, the unnamed Doctor resides in an underground Thames-side lair in Limehouse. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
The centennial of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu character is a topic I have covered both for the anniversary of the Devil Doctor’s first appearance in the story, “The Zayat Kiss” in 1912 and the publication of the first novel (really a fix-up of stories), The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu in 1913. While Rohmer and the character are largely forgotten outside of pulp circles today, the legacy of the criminal mastermind is alive and well in film and comics. The concept of the Yellow Peril from an era when the broad term Oriental grouped together people from parts of Eastern Europe with all of Asia and the Middle East may sound anachronistic, but given the continued delicate relations between the Middle East and the West, those same fears personified are still the stuff of fiction and paranoia well over a century on. Sax Rohmer did not invent the criminal mastermind nor was he the first to capitalize on the Yellow Peril for works of fiction. What he did do was create an archetype that managed to embody and transcend the fears of a foreign other to instead personify the fear of Western society falling to a superior intellect operating under a completely different set of values. Rohmer did this better than anyone before and while Fu Manchu as a name may seem ridiculous, the concept of the character is still with us from James Bond films to the media’s portrayal of terrorist leaders in the 21st Century. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.
Friday, October 3, 2014
Samhain Publishing has just ushered in Closing Time, their third Renner and Quist occult mystery from author Mark Rigney. Longtime readers of my articles will recall The Skates and Sleeping Bear, which introduced me to Rigney’s oddball double act. Renner is a persnickety Unitarian minister while Quist is a boorish ex-linebacker. Together, this unlikely duo team to solve occult mysteries. This latest addition to the quirky and delightful series takes our heroes from their usual Michigan stomping grounds to downtown Columbus, Ohio. It seems a long-demolished hotel is doing its best to return to existence. It currently inhabits its original location in another dimension complete with guests and staff from past decades co-existing. These include such celebrated faces from the past as Amelia Earhart, James Thurber, Charles Dickens, and Marilyn Monroe. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
I was first introduced to Mike Vosburg’s work through my love of Sax Rohmer. His wonderful artwork graced Master of Villainy, the 1972 biography of Rohmer by the author’s widow and Cay Van Ash. Later, I would discover Mike’s artwork also appeared in The Rohmer Review fanzine. Many more years later, I was fortunate enough to have Mike provide the back cover illustration to my second Fu Manchu book. He also gave my daughter a gift of autographed copies of some of his professional work which made her feel like the luckiest nine year old girl on the planet. I don’t claim to know the man well, but I adore his work and know him as a genuinely kind and generous artist. The influence of Sax Rohmer is never far away from Mike’s art. From his early professional work for Marvel Comics with The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (featuring Shang-Chi, the son of Fu Manchu) to Offcastes, his 1993 Epic Comics limited series set on a future Earth that parallels the colonialism of the past right down to classic Yellow Peril elements including the Zayat Kiss; Rohmer’s shadow looms large. Today, Mike is best known as an award-winning storyboard artist for the Hollywood majors. He still has his hands in the indie comic world, though with such titles as Retrowood, Lori Lovecraft, and his latest creation, The Mad Mummy. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Sapper’s The Female of the Species (1928) is quite likely the best book in the long-running Bulldog Drummond thriller series. It’s one failing comes late in the narrative and spoils it as assuredly as Mickey Rooney’s bucktoothed yellow-face performance as Mr. Yunioshi sours Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) for modern audiences. As a devoted fan of both Blake Edwards and Sapper, I do my best to make exceptions for their failings, particularly when they were acceptable in the times they lived in. In the case of the former, the suggestion of pornographic photos in Truman Capote’s novella could never have been transferred to the screen with an Asian actor in the role of Audrey Hepburn’s frustrated landlord. Edwards soft-pedaled the material and defused a scene that never would have slipped by the Production Code if handled dramatically by offering Mickey Rooney in a broad caricature of an Asian. It was a star cameo in a comic stereotype still common in television sitcoms of the 1960s and Jerry Lewis films. Audiences at the time laughed at the fact that it was Mickey Rooney making a fool of himself and nothing more. Today, the classic status of the film makes the sequence stick out as an unfortunate example of racial insensitivity in a fashion that does not taint comedies of the same era which are now considered a time capsule example of what passed for juvenile humor at the time. So we come to The Female of the Species where Sapper’s engrossing thriller falls apart at the climax for modern readers by the repeated belittling of Pedro, an African henchman as a “nigger.” Worst of all, Sapper attempts black-face humor and notes the disguised Drummond doesn’t smell like a “nigger.” This isn’t a colonial jungle tale where the word was often employed without contempt; this is a Roaring Twenties thriller where it is used as a contemptuous slur. While allegations of Sapper’s racism are often exaggerated by modern commentators, when he does pile it on he stands out among his contemporaries as genuinely intolerant of everyone and everything not British. Never is this more true than in this book where the sheer repetition of the slur from multiple protagonists who hold the man in contempt for the color of his skin alone leads one to feel repulsed. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE,PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.