Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

September 28, 2022

 OUTLAWS OF THE WEST #79 (Modern Comics, 1978)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:49 am

In my earlier days, when I would juggle multiple part-time, no-benefit jobs to make ends meet….or later, to support the family….I would often fall back on security guarding, as I had done it numerous times before and thus did not need extensive training (and could start quickly, if needed), I had a state license (or could easily renew it if I’d let it lapse), I projected a relatively stable persona, and I could keep my mouth shut–those two latter ones being the essential qualities for the position. With today’s economy, who knows….I may well be back in the blue guard uniform with the piping on the slacks some time in the future. I’ve always specialized in looking inconspicuous, so I’ve got that part down, and I can definitely keep quiet….especially when I’m being paid to do so.

During my longest stint (2 ½ years) as a night-shift security guard, in the 1980’s, I always needed some reading. I could listen to all-night radio for some of my eight-hour shift, but that would get old fast. Larry King was still mostly a radio person at that time, and he had a midnight national two-hour show each weeknight, which was very popular with night-shift workers and insomniacs (when he was on vacation or on weekends, he’d be subbed by Jim Bohannon—-a name very well-known to night shift workers, and someone we all thought of as a friend—-who eventually took over the show when Larry went totally to TV….and who was fifty times better than Larry!). Larry’s interviews with authors, celebrities, political people with a book out, and the like were somewhat entertaining, but that show would run for only two hours and then they’d re-run it, so you could not listen to it twice. If you’ve never worked the night shift, you may not really understand that while your body is up, your brain is not. Oh, you can do the tasks you need to do to get by. If you work with numbers (and I had to do some minimal record keeping and tracking of the ins and outs of employees during my shift) or work in a hospital, you can train yourself to do what needs to be done in an acceptable manner, but I think any night shift worker would agree that higher-level thought deteriorates in that environment. Let’s just say that it would not be the time to read the prose of Henry James or the poems of Robert Browning (if there’s EVER a time to read them!).

No, night shift is the time for a Mickey Spillane novel….or a copy of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine….or, if you’re so inclined (I usually was not), something by Jackie Collins or Harold Robbins. Something that requires no thought and which has its own kind of internal momentum to move your half-awake carcass along from one chapter to the next. I would have also handicapped the horses or dogs on a racing form, but there were no racetracks in that area, alas. One of the managers of the company who owned the building would sometimes give me his old copies of The Wall Street Journal (when it was worthwhile, before Rupert Murdoch took it over) and The Economist, and those helped.

For me, however, the perfect night shift reading was comic books. During an eight-hour shift running from midnight to 8 a.m., I’d have to make the rounds three times with my time-clock and key, call the country sheriff at the beginning and end of my shift to check in, meet the sanitation guy out on the loading dock at 4 a.m. where I’d wheel out the dumpsters (and we’d talk about sports and women and the weather), meet the mail drop-off at 4:30 a.m., and then be ready to greet and observe the employees who came in at 5, then at 6, then at 7:45, right before MY shift ended. Other than that, the time was my own, but I had to man the front desk and observe the video monitors for the property at all times. You get to the point where you can do all of this in your sleep….and during the night shift, you sometimes did! I could basically be asleep, but if anyone approached the building within 50 feet or if there was any movement on the four black-and-white video monitors of the property, I would wake myself quickly.

I was fortunate during that period in the 80’s as it was the golden age of Dick Tracy reprints, with the DICK TRACY WEEKLY, a large magazine of vintage newspaper strip reprints which came out EVERY WEEK. Tracy was always my go-to comic read, and I’d read each one multiple times. However, I also was on the lookout for cheap used and multi-pack comics to kill time in an entertaining manner. For instance, if I could buy a used regular (32-page) Tarzan comic and a used TARZAN GIANT (52 pages) for the same price, I’d go for the Giant.

One item you’d find often in cheap used comic racks (and in old multi-packs which were still found in dusty racks at K-Mart, Ben Franklin, Woolworth’s, Phar-Mor, etc.) was the MODERN COMICS line of reprints which Charlton did of its back catalog and which were originally sold bagged for a cheap price. They wound up being re-sold unbagged at many low-end retailers, and you can see the 6 for $1 sticker on the front of my copy. Charlton eventually went entirely to reprints in the 1980’s. MODERN had a diverse array of offerings: military, horror, superheroes, westerns, hot rod, romance, etc. The material seemed to range from five to twenty years old, and usually they would reprint the entire comic, including cover, and keep the same number. All that would be different would be the MODERN logo instead of Charlton….and of course a new masthead with publishing info. When I looked up this particular issue at comics.org, I learned that it was an exact reprint of Charlton’s OUTLAWS OF THE WEST #79 from November 1969, but with new ads, a new publishing masthead, and the short story deleted (to make way for another page of ads….remember how in previous reviews I’ve described the short stories in comic books as “disposable” or “throwaway”—-they disposed of it in this reprint!). From what I’ve read about the Modern Comics methods of distribution, I’m guessing that circulation of the Modern reprint of a Charlton title would probably have been larger than the Charlton original (at least during the early days of Modern)–they are certainly easier to find and cheaper when found than the originals, except for some late Moderns which dealers label “short run.”

Classic western comic books—-set in an imaginary Old West which is timeless—-usually do not date. They are also the perfect 3 a.m. reading. Night shift workers (and anyone else forced for one reason or another to keep such hours) are in some unnatural state with artificial lighting keeping you up, your brain is in a kind of netherworld, and your connection to most people’s “reality” is tenuous at best, so the perfect venue for that punchdrunk imagination is a mythical Old West. The REAL Old West was probably a lot like what’s depicted in the 1972 Michael J. Pollard vehicle DIRTY LITTLE BILLY (we’ve included the poster for that, which says it all)–a classic of a sort, certainly, but who needs to re-live THAT downer of an experience! Life sucks enough without rubbing my face in its suckiness in a western, which is supposed to be escapist entertainment. As I would look out the window from my guard post, illuminated by fluorescent tubes in the ceiling, and see a well-lit but nearly empty parking lot (there were about five computer-room night shift employees at the massive insurance office where I was guard–that was it–most everyone else was day shift with a handful of evening employees) bordered by tall pine trees on three sides, I could summon up any scene, any reality in my imagination. It’s amazing how we may have millions of people around us, but 99% of it shuts down each night–except for the occasional police siren or ambulance screech or loaded individual playing loud music in his or her car (or in some neighborhoods, gunshots–this office building was on the outskirts of town, though). Even now, I enjoy sitting on my porch after sundown or before sunrise–listening to the environment, imagining what’s going on in the sealed-up and dimly-lit houses and apartments. Remember the old line from the 1950s NAKED CITY TV show: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” You can see how one can easily slip into and out of some alternate reality in the middle of the night. And an alternate reality I remember enjoying was found in the 6 for a dollar comics I would buy and read at my guard post in between tasks and after Larry King signed off for the night.

OUTLAWS OF THE WEST #79 has a lot to offer in its three long stories. “The Endless Trail” features comic book stalwart Kid Montana (who had been graying at the temples for a few years at this point) in one of those always-enjoyable “existential gunfighter” plots (which were re-written in 1970’s action films as “existential hitman” plots) where the aging gunfighter is looking to settle down and find peace. He’d only shoot when shot at–he never looked for trouble–but when you are a legend with a gun, there’s always some young punk who thinks he’s on his way up who’s looking to take you on, and will bait you into a fight you don’t want. Yes, you’ve seen that plot before with Alan Ladd or Robert Taylor or Audie Murphy….heck, even John Wayne’s final film, THE SHOOTIST (which I saw theatrically in its initial run at the Brentwood 4 in West Denver), was a variation on that old plot. No one who has ever seen a B-western has any doubt about where the plot is headed here, but does anyone really NOT know what the outcome is in most genre entertainment, be it low-budget films, quickie genre novels, or western comic books. That was NEVER the point. It’s how you get to the climax, and how the sleight-of-hand of the creator gets you focusing on the smaller details and the immediate moment. That’s what provides the pleasure. After all, everyone knows where a roller coaster is headed….you can see its course before you get on….but the ride is still a thrill, isn’t it?

The second story, “A Share of Evil,” has a criminal gang shoot a drifter who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but when he doesn’t die immediately, they decide to keep him around to do forced labor for them. Of course, as you can imagine, he eventually picks them off one by one. If this were a Universal made-for-TV western of the late 1960’s, I could imagine Don Stroud in the role of The Drifter (or in a Eurowestern, Peter Lee Lawrence). One of the advantages that a comic book has over a low-budget B-western is that the artist and writer can create anything on the page that can be imagined, and not worry about locations, sets, production design, etc., so the settings here are dynamic, the action fast-paced.

At this point in the original Charlton comic, there was a one-page short story, but that’s been cut here for a full-page ad for a four-dollar portable AM radio (see pic). Many of us owned these chintzy but convenient battery-powered radios back in the day. I first heard the Kinks and The Bubble Puppy and The Standells and “I Am The Walrus” and old reruns of “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” radio shows on such a cheapo machine. This deal even throws in a free battery….so you can play it right out of the box.

The issue concludes with an odd story called “Dare To Enjoy It,” featuring an arrogant outlaw, whose Achilles Heel was his vanity. A brutal killer and robber named Rogg, who wears a beard and has long dark hair and a large floppy hat, decides to re-emerge as a newcomer in a town he just robbed and killed a few people in. However, he’s now clean shaven, has rinsed the dark color out of his hair and is a blond, and also has a short haircut…and no hat. He also talks differently….or at least attempts to. He does this out of his conceit and his belief that these stupid locals are too dim to notice….it’s almost like a challenge to them. Of course, we all know where this will eventually head, and it’s quite satisfying as the clever locals catch on to this jerk as he slips up here and there. He finally gets what he deserves from the locals, and the reader then has a full page ad for a KISS pendant (as a public service, we are NOT reprinting that page here) staring him/her in the face…..and it’s probably almost 4 a.m. back at my guard post. Time to make that last run with my watch-clock before meeting the sanitation guy and his garbage truck out at the loading docks.

He’ll tell me some witty stories about the work-sites he’s visited since coming on at midnight, and we’ll have a cigarette or two on the edge of the dock and look out into the darkness as the first cars start to emerge on the main road down the hill with people who have to be at work at 5 a.m. He might tell me about how he’s still flirting with that red-haired divorcee he sees at the flour mill….and how she’s going to say yes one of these nights. He might tell me how much he’s bet on football and basketball games this week. He might tell me of some new beer he’s tried, which is just starting to be sold in the area (he also hits a beer distributorship on his run each night, and they give him samples of items they are considering stocking). I won’t mention that I just got back from hanging out with Kid Montana….better brush that trail dust off my guard uniform before I start pushing the first dumpster out to the loading dock.

Bill Shute (originally published elsewhere online in 2016)

September 21, 2022

Richard Talmadge in THE FIGHTING PILOT (1935)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:12 am

Richard Talmadge’s name is beloved by fans of 1920’s and 1930’s low-budget indie action films. An ace stuntman (who’d doubled Douglas Fairbanks, among others) and later successful second-unit director on major studio films, Talmadge (real name Sylvester Ricardo Metzetti, he was born in Germany of Italian-Swiss background) entered show business as a member of an acrobatic trio, The Metzetti Brothers, with his two brothers, Otto and Victor, who often found their way into his films. His jaw-dropping acrobatic and daredevil abilities were just what was needed in the world of stunt work in films in the 1920’s, and Talmadge made a name for himself while still a stuntman. He parlayed that into a series of low-budget silent films beginning in 1923, such as LET’S GO and THE PRINCE OF PEP (both of which are available online), which he also had a hand in producing. He was very much like the later stars of straight-to-video action films in the 1980’s and 1990’s in that his films were fast-moving, unpretentious vehicles for his incredibly dangerous stunts, all shot in such a way that it was ALWAYS clear that it was Talmadge himself doing the stunt and there was no fakery. The films were built around a series of death-defying feats, and Talmadge always delivered the goods. He was a bubbly, likeable screen presence with endless enthusiasm, and based on reports I’ve read in the trades, he was quite popular among exhibitors and neighborhood and small-town audiences, in the kind of theaters that featured low-budget indie product. Talmadge knew what his audience wanted and delivered it….with a smile and usually a refreshing dose of humor.

When sound came around, Talmadge’s thick accent (I once made a copy—back in the VHS days—of Talmadge’s 1934 serial, PIRATE TREASURE for a friend, and he wrote me back saying that he really enjoyed it, but wondered “what language is Richard Talmadge speaking?”) became a bit of an issue, but he seemed to understand what his gifts were (death-defying feats, like a cross between Houdini and Evel Knievel) and how to best market those gifts, so he moved into the lowest rung of the indie feature world and began producing a series of action-filled features putting him in one setting or another but built around a series of amazing physical stunts. His boyish enthusiasm and charming screen persona made the accent a non-issue (in fact, it may have helped him project a kind of “humble but enthusiastic immigrant made good” image). Speaking of accents, I’ve always wondered if Talmadge learned his English from a New Yorker, as he’s got a kind of German-Italian spin on a Brooklyn accent. It’s certainly unique!

After that 1934 serial for Universal (one of his few starring roles for a major company), Talmadge’s final round of starring vehicles came in the 1935-1936 season for Bernard B. Ray and Harry Webb’s RELIABLE PICTURES (also known as AJAX PICTURES, best-known for their fine group of Jack Perrin films). The series of six films consisted of THE FIGHTING PILOT, NOW OR NEVER, THE LIVE WIRE, NEVER TOO LATE, STEP ON IT, and my own personal favorite, THE SPEED REPORTER.

THE FIGHTING PILOT (I have it on a Grapevine DVD double-bill with ON YOUR GUARD from 1933, but it’s available for free online in a very good quality print) has all of the best qualities of a Talmadge film, so if you were going to see only one of his films, this would be a good choice. There is an experimental airplane being designed by the firm Talmadge works for. Sleazy heel Robert Frazer (well-known to fans of 30’s indie films….Frazer goes back to the 1910’s, where he starred in silent films, and then with the coming of sound, he was a supporting player, with an old-fashioned stage actor’s delivery….nice to see him smoking a cigarette and playing a gangster here for a change) is trying to get the plans for the plane and sell them to a competitor. The nice thing about a film like this is that you can take its one-hour running time and cut it up into segments, which is surely what the producers did and then informed the screenwriters. You get three minutes of conspiring among the crooks; you get two or three minutes from Talmadge’s comic sidekick, who is no doubt channeling an old vaudeville routine; you get two to three minutes of Talmadge talking with his girlfriend, played by personal favorite Gertrude Messinger, who’d been in Hal Roach’s BOYFRIENDS shorts in the early sound days and who was a charming and spunky leading lady on poverty row in the early to mid 1930’s; you get a fistfight that kills two or three minutes; you have Talmadge doing a dangerous stunt for three or four minutes; you have a few minutes of aviation footage. Etc. Etc. Then you repeat and alternate those elements, have the bad guys defeated at the end, have a happy ending, keep it all family-friendly but fast moving, and you’ve killed 60 minutes and you can put it in the can and get it out to exhibitors on the States Rights circuit in the mid-1930’s.

This is exactly the kind of entertainment that bread-and-butter audiences in the midst of the 1930’s Depression wanted and needed….and that people like me (and I hope YOU) still want and need today. It delivers the goods, crams as much action into an hour as you’d get in a 12-chapter serial, has humor and romance, and has death-defying stunts by one of the greats, Richard Talmadge.

Talmadge’s career lasted well into the late 1960’s, and once his starring career ended in 1936, he stayed behind the camera working as a stunt director and/or second-unit director on such A-product as HOW THE WEST WAS WON, NORTH TO ALASKA, CIRCUS WORLD, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, and CASINO ROYALE. However, he also was involved with (as director or second-unit director) some of the most bottom-of-the-barrel product imaginable, such as the 1950 Spade Cooley vehicle BORDER OUTLAWS (mine is the only review of that on the IMDB—check it out), the 16mm feature JEEP HERDERS from 1946, the 1953 sci-fi feature PROJECT MOONBASE (which used some of the same sets as CATWOMEN OF THE MOON), and the 1956 Johnny Carpenter (as John Forbes) western I KILLED WILD BILL HICKOK (which you can see for free online). During his heyday as a leading man in low-budget 20’s and 30’s action films focusing on his amazing prowess as an acrobat and stuntman, however, Richard Talmadge was the master—add to that his comfortable and amiable and enthusiastic screen presence, and his ability to know exactly the kind of projects to properly highlight his gifts (and cover-up his deficiencies) and to make them quickly and inexpensively so they would turn a profit and more of them could be produced. He is still working his magic today for anyone who’ll take the time to watch THE FIGHTING PILOT or THE SPEED REPORTER.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2019

September 14, 2022

TIME OUT FOR RHYTHM (1941), starring The Three Stooges and Rudy Vallee

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:03 am

This 1941 Swing-oriented musical comedy, made by the Stooges’ own studio, Columbia (not a loan-out as with Stooge features such as SWING PARADE OF 1946, made at Monogram, or GOLD RAIDERS, an independent film released by United Artists), is a pleasant surprise, which I stumbled across accidentally online. When I was first learning about the Stooges’ history, by reading about them in books in the library back in the 70’s and 80’s, a film like this would just be a title to me—what would be the likelihood of it ever playing on TV in my area? Not much, so I just filed it away in the back of my head….evidently, pretty far back, as I’d completely forgotten it. It’s not like today, where you can Google it and start watching it in fifteen seconds, for free.

Every studio churned out bottom-of-the-bill Swing musicals in the late 30’s and early 40’s, and the studios that made the best B-movies tended to make the most entertaining ones because they understood good pacing, alternated three or four clever subplots throughout the running time (which they kept brief), and had talented comic performers under contract (or available cheaply). The better films also had some hot swinging musical numbers and not just syrupy ballads by “boy singers” and “girl singers” as they were then known. Some band leaders, such as Ozzie Nelson (watch the 1942 STRICTLY IN THE GROOVE sometime, which pairs Nelson with Shemp Howard, Leon Errol, and Franklin Pangborn!), had a comic persona as part of their regular “act” that they could exploit, beyond just leading the band.

Before we get to the Stooges, the comedy front-line in the film is first-rate….longtime dim-witted comic flunky-to-gangsters ALLEN JENKINS, along with the dim-witted cop from the Boston Blackie films (made at Columbia) RICHARD LANE, and doing a great lampoon of his own stuffed-shirt Ivy League background, RUDY VALLEE (always good at comedy—watch him as the song-stealing “America’s Beloved Tunesmith, Alvin Weiner” in the mid-70’s ELLERY QUEEN TV show with Jim Hutton and see how the man was still a scene-stealing supporting actor nearly 50 years after his initial fame as a late 20’s crooner, in the pre-Bing Crosby age) run a low-rung talent agency looking for cheap acts to exploit. Their cynical and threadbare and hare-brained schemes are a riot, and I wish they’d later been given their own comedy shorts or movie series as they are so good in this.

One of the musical sequences is wild also. Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, who made many pile-driving uptempo records in the early 30’s but were still a crack outfit in the early 40’s, do a novelty rhythm tune called “Boogie Woogie Man” that is shot in the dark with the musicians playing glow-in-the-dark instruments, a routine later used by Louis Jordan and band in the film SWING PARADE OF 1946 a few years later, which coincidentally also starred The Three Stooges.

The Stooges themselves get four featured sequences spread throughout the film and are also around at other times. They are unemployed actors trying to get bookings through the Jenkins-Lane-Vallee agency. I don’t want to give away what their scenes are—I did not know going into the film exactly what they would be doing, and I appreciated them suddenly appearing out of the blue a lot more than I would have if I knew what they would be doing. Let’s just say that one of their classic routines is premiered here before they even did it in one of their own shorts, they also revive an old routine from their early 30’s Ted Healy days, and they are even featured in the blow-out final musical number, with Curly “in character” doing an outrageous impression of a certain exotic songstress of the day.

Running a brisk 74 minutes, TIME OUT FOR RHYTHM is almost a textbook example of how the makers of these B-programmers knew how to pack so much into a brief, entertaining, and fast-moving package, giving you comedy, music, and romance….and most importantly, tying it all up before you are ever tempted to look at your watch. The first rule of entertainment and the arts should always be “leave them wanting more.” What a Golden Age this period was! And the crew that made this probably churned it out in 10 days, and then moved on to another project—they did not sit around whining about being misunderstood artistes!

—————–

BILL SHUTE, originally published elsewhere online in 2019

September 7, 2022

WILD WATERS (1935), starring Flash The Dog and David Sharpe

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 2:56 am

Flash, The Wonder Dog paired with action star David Sharpe

I recently watched two 1935-36 features starring and written by future stuntman David Sharpe (Social Error and Adventurous Knights), which prompted me to dig out this old favorite, a 20-25 minute “featurette” where Sharpe and the amazing German Shepherd “Flash, The Wonder Dog” are united against a group of crooks building a shoddy dam with substandard materials and placing the whole valley in jeopardy. There’s enough action for a feature film here, and the characters are quickly established in the first few scenes (when someone TRIES to hit a child with a car, you can be fairly sure he’s the villain of the piece!). The location shooting makes the film fascinating to watch, and Flash is an amazing dog who will warm the heart of any dog lover. 30’s b-movie heroine Gertrude Messenger, who was married to Sharpe, is also in the film, but the short running time keeps her character from getting much screen time. It’s all Sharpe and Flash versus the bad guys. Any lover of early 30s Mascot serials should enjoy this entertaining short (in some ways, Sharpe is like a taller Frankie Darro!). Although this was no doubt a throwaway short rented for a low flat fee, the filmmakers did a much better job than they needed to, and there are some surprising point-of-view shots from a runaway mining rail car and an out-of-control auto with two little children trapped in it. If you like low budget, independent 1930s action films, be sure to see Wild Waters. By the way, fans of the classic serial THE LOST CITY will recognize the canned music from that film about halfway through this short.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2002

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