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My Incredibly Busy April, #2: The Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention

Posted in Conventions,Special Events on May 14, 2019 @ 9:41 pm

I’m posting this convention report several weeks after I planned to, but better late than never. I flew home from Los Angeles on Sunday the 7th and had just two days to prepare for my trip to the 19th annual Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention.

I’d be traveling with the usual suspects: dealer Nick Certo and collectors Walker Martin, Scott Hartshorn, and Digges La Touche, aka “the Jersey Boys.” We’ve been driving together to pulp conventions for ten years now. The big change from previous Chicago expeditions was our choice of rental vehicle. We finally harpooned the Great White Whale and rented a newer, sleeker van—one seating 12 instead of 15 but in every other way a much better drive. By this time the Whale’s mileage probably tops 100,000, and after last year’s trip to PulpFest we’d begun having second thoughts about taking it out again. When we started making plans for this year’s Chicago trip, Nick flatly refused to go in the Whale, forcing us to investigate other vehicles. The one we chose was more expensive by roughly $200 but proved eminently satisfactory otherwise.

We left from my house early Wednesday morning, the 10th, and spent the night in South Bend, Indiana, roughly three-quarters of the way to Lombard, Illnois, the Chicago suburb where the convention is staged. The show’s co-founder, Doug Ellis, leaves in another suburb close by and hosts an annual pre-show open house. As usual we planned on reaching his place by Thursday noon, but this year we forgot the one-hour time difference and actually rolled in at 11 a.m. I mention this only because it enabled me to make a great purchase.

We pulled into Doug’s driveway as he, close friend John Locke, and Windy City partner John Gunnison were stuffing boxes into the U-Haul trailer they rent to transport convention supplies and Doug’s dealer stock. Having arrived too early for lunch, we helped the guys load the boxes stacked up in the garage. I noticed two labeled “Unknown Set.” At first I thought, How could it be an unknown set? He put the magazines in the boxes himself, didn’t he? But then—duh—I realized the boxes contained a set of the classic pulp magazine Unknown. I asked Doug how much he wanted and we cut a deal right there in his garage. The show hadn’t even started and already I’d made a major score!

We drove from Doug’s to the con hotel, the Westin Lombard, in plenty of time to check in and grab dinner before the Thursday-night setup. This year the dealer room was expanded to squeeze in an extra 30 tables, for a total of 180—the most ever. Unfortunately, that meant reallocating the large space previously set aside for programming (auctions, panel discussions, film screenings). As a result, the other events were shunted into a smaller room on the other side of the hotel. Previously we were able to fill our 15-foot movie screen, but the smaller room gave us a much reduced “throw” from the projector and proved barely adequate to contain the large crowd attending both Friday-night and Saturday-night auctions.

I hated to lose the larger space, but it’s great to have more dealers. The array of material for sale was impressive, although I noticed far more collectible hardcovers than pulps in the room. That didn’t make me unhappy, though; I purchased more hardcovers this year than at any previous Windy City show.

Last year was pretty much a washout in terms of adding to the core of my pulp collection, a 600-issue run of Adventure from 1918 to 1948. But earlier this year I’d gotten a handful of needed issues on eBay, and I picked up a half-dozen more at Windy, included the last I needed to complete 1924 (one of the 36-issue years). Also found a few issues needed to fill out my ’30s run of Blue Book. So I was a happy camper.

The auctions—always highlights of a Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention—featured rare material from the collections of the number one Robert E. Howard fan Glenn Lord, the late Bob Weinberg, and Tim Issacson, who consigned a two-year (1934 and 1935), high-grade run of Dime Detective. Record-breaking prices were realized for many items.

Of Friday night’s offerings the real shocker—for me, anyway—was the $3,750 (plus 10 percent buyer’s premium) paid for a 32-page 1944 pamphlet titled The Case Against the Comics. A cautionary document advocating severe censorship of comic books, it predated Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent by a full decade and is extremely rare. Still, this copy fetched two or three times what I would have expected.

A copy of the December 1932 Weird Tales (with the first Conan story) gaveled in at $2,500 plus buyer’s premium, a surprise in that it wasn’t even close to being the best copy I’ve seen.

Another breath-taker was a first edition of Herbert Asbury’s 1928 horror-story anthology Not at Night! signed by Asbury, H. P. Lovecraft, and August Derleth: $4,500 plus buyer’s premium. Bob Weinberg had gotten this item from Derleth’s estate.

A fairly disreputable copy of Weird Tales #1 brought $3,750 plus.

Auctioneer John Gunnison brought down the gavel on 230 lots altogether in Friday’s session.

The Saturday auction was somewhat less impressive and exciting, but not without its highlights. Early on, the first World Fantasy Convention Award statue, presented to Glenn Lord in 1978, sold for a cool two grand plus premium. My pal Walker was the underbidder on that one.

The evening’s big kahuna, though, was Glenn’s copy of Lovecraft’s The Shunned House in the 1928 edition privately published by W.Paul Cook. For those unfamiliar with this particular item: Under the auspices of his Recluse Press, Cook printed approximately 300 copies but never had them bound. Many years later Derleth acquired half the print run, distributing 50 sets of the unbound sheets and binding 100 for sale through Arkham House. Glenn acquired one of the unbound sets and had a Houston bindery do a custom job on his copy. On the basis of rarity alone, Shunned House is a phenomenally valuable item, but in this case rarity plus provenance equaled $5500 plus premium.

I never plan to win anything at the Windy City auctions because the stuff I want most invariably sells for a lot more than I’m willing or able to pay. But every year brings a few pleasant surprises, and I occasionally pick up minor items for resale. On Friday I decided impulsively to bid on a 1925 bound volume of Flynn’s that had come from the Munsey offices. It was in pretty nice shape but auctioneer John Gunnison couldn’t get a $50 opening bid. He dropped down to $40, but still nothing. Then he went to $30, and failing to get any interest he was about to pass it when I piped up. Nobody bid against me. I also paid $30 for the 1920 issue of Argosy with the first installment of Francis Stevens’ “Serapion.”

I really wanted several of the Dime Detectives but was outbid on two of the three, winning the June 1, 1935 for $90—a righteous price for that issue.

A month or two before the show, Doug had asked me to moderate a panel on Planet Stories, 2019 being the 80th anniversary of that magazine’s launch. Walker and fellow pulp scholar Garyn Roberts agreed to sit in. But that Saturday night our dinner ran long and we were late getting back to the hotel. With no time beforehand to compare notes or map out a strategy, my fellow panelists and I took the stage in a hurry and just improvised. To my amazement, the 45-minute discussion went over quite well and all three of us fielded compliments afterward, and on Sunday morning.

A total of 525 people passed through the doors, and business was brisk. I sold nearly 90 percent of the Murania Press stock on my dealer-room table, along with a couple dozen bargain-priced pulps. And, of course, I mingled with dozens of friends I only see at the various pulp conventions.

So the show had been a good one for me, both sales-wise and in terms of acquisitions. All five Jersey Boys had done well, in fact, and normally would be basking in the afterglow of a successful convention while making the 800-mile drive home. But on Sunday morning a freak snowstorm dropped several inches of slushy white stuff on Chicagoland, and it was with great trepidation that we loaded the van and left Lombard shortly before 2 p.m.

It’s no fun driving in lousy weather when you have a two-day trip ahead of you. Fortunately, the snow let up once we’d logged a hundred miles or so, although it rained to rain the rest of Sunday and most of Monday—in other words, practically all the way home. Things had finally dried out by the time we reached the Delaware Water Gap separating Pennsylvania from New Jersey.

This was our group’s tenth excursion to the Windy City convention. And one of the most enjoyable, inclement weather notwithstanding.

Doug, his wife Deb, and John Gunnison in the dealer room at Doug’s exhibit. (Picture by Sai Shankar)


Slight Delay in Our Release of the “Forgotten Classics” Collection

We had expected to release our ten-volume “Forgotten Classics of Pulp Fiction” collection by now, but a few niggling glitches remain to be addressed on some of the books. Nothing major, mind you, just nuts-and-bolts corrections involving ISBN numbers and copyright declarations, along with technical adjustments related to the color illustrations on a number of covers. The corrections themselves will not be difficult or time-consuming, but making them means we have to resubmit our digital files to the printer for processing and acceptance, a procedure that can take several days.

It was our original intent to make the ten volumes available simultaneously, but rather than hold up the entire group we’ll release the unaffected books over the coming days and then add the others one by one as they’re approved for printing. Hopefully all ten will be ready for ordering as a set by this time next week.  Keep watching this blog for the individual announcements.

Meanwhile, to further whet your appetite, here are three more covers from the series. For illustrations we’re using original pulp-magazine paintings that depict events or vignettes in sync thematically with each book’s theme. The Elixir of Hate cover, however, features the Virgil Finlay painting that adorned the 1942 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries in which England’s novel was first reprinted.

 

 

 

 

 


More Collectibles Coming!

Posted in Collectibles For Sale on @ 2:43 pm

Most of the two dozen or so items we added to last week’s update of our Collectibles section have already sold, but keep your eyes peeled for new additions coming in the next few days—more pulps, hardcovers, DVDs, and related material. We’re still sifting through a mountain o’ stuff here at Murania Central, including pulps we recently upgraded and various duplicates we bought by accident!

Keep checking back; we won’t do another big update but, rather, add items a few at a time as time permits.


Collectibles Section Update: May 3

Posted in Collectibles For Sale on May 3, 2019 @ 3:28 pm

It’s been five weeks since we last freshened up our Collectibles for Sale section and most of the best items from that update have already sold. But we’re adding another couple dozen items today, and some of them are pretty darn rare.  We’re going to be adding a few more as the weekend progresses; it’s Spring Cleaning time!  And please note that prices have been reduced on some of the pieces that have been hanging around a long time. Meanwhile, take a gander at the newest offerings lest you miss a bargain!  Here are a few samples….

 

 


My Incredibly Busy April, #1: The Writers & Illustrators of the Future Awards Banquet

Posted in Special Events on April 27, 2019 @ 9:42 pm

April has been a whirlwind for me, between making two major trips and finishing work on the ten-volume Forgotten Classics of Pulp Fiction series that goes on sale next week. I’ve rarely had a busier or more productive month.

It began in earnest on the 3rd when I flew to Los Angeles to attend the 35th annual Writers & Illustrators of the Future awards banquet, the climactic event of a week-long confab that united budding science-fiction writers and artists with seasoned pros. In 1983 legendary SF author L. Ron Hubbard organized a yearly contest inspired by the “pay it forward” philosophy. Encouraging submissions from aspiring fictioneers, and enlisting the aid of his SF contemporaries to select the best stories, Hubbard envisioned the competition as a means of discovering and nurturing new talents and thus keep the genre fresh and exciting.

The first Writers of the Future award gala took place in 1985 amidst glamorous Beverly Hills surroundings. Famous SF author and critic Algis Budrys headed a blue-ribbon panel of judges that included Golden Age greats Theodore Sturgeon and Jack Williamson as well as digest-era luminaries Roger Zelazny and Robert Silverberg. Ray Bradbury and A. E. van Vogt were among the distinguished SF writers in attendance, and the contest’s first award-winner was Dean Wesley Smith, who has gone on to enjoy a fabulous career in SF as writer, editor, and essayist. Smith and other finalists had the pleasure of seeing their entries published in a book titled L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future.

LRH died in 1986 but the annual contest has been administered ever since by Author Services Inc., the company founded to manage his affairs. Eventually the competition was also opened to illustrators. For many years issued by Bridge Publications Inc., the yearly Writers & Illustrators of the Future collections since 2004 have been published under the auspices of Galaxy Press, a division of ASI established to keep Hubbard’s work (including his early pulp yarns) in print.

I became acquainted with Galaxy Press shortly after its founding when president John Goodwin and a few members of his staff attended several Pulpcons as part of their marketing efforts prior to launching a new line of trade paperbacks that revived vintage LRH yarns. He’s long been a Murania Press supporter and booster of my Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction, a revised second edition of which I published last year. But I don’t claim to be a follower of contemporary SF and therefore was both surprised and flattered when in January he invited me to be the keynote speaker at this year’s awards banquet.

Striking a nostalgic note, I was to deliver an address celebrating what’s come to be known as the Golden Age of Science Fiction, largely a phenomenon of the pulp-magazine era. My focus would be trained on Street & Smith’s Astounding Science Fiction under the editorship of John W. Campbell, who discovered and/or nurtured many of the field’s greatest talents, among them Heinlein, Sturgeon, Asimov, van Vogt, del Rey, de Camp, and Hubbard himself.

As this awards ceremony is a tightly scripted, lavishly mounted affair comparable to the movie industry’s Oscars broadcast—I kid you not—John needed me to prepare a speech beforehand rather than wing it, as I’m accustomed to doing. Moreover, I’d have to deliver it from teleprompters strategically placed in the massive ballroom of Hollywood’s Taglyan Complex, where the affair took place. I’d never used teleprompters before and wondered if they would inhibit me at all. Additionally, the ceremony was being live-streamed to an international audience. That, too, was potentially intimidating.

But when I arrived at the Taglyan on Thursday the 5th to rehearse, I had no difficulty mastering the ‘prompter. Frankly, I was more nervous about squeezing into the rented tuxedo graciously provided by my hosts.

The Friday-night gala was a genuine revelation. Again, I wasn’t kidding when I compared it to the annual Oscars broadcast. The venue was jaw-droppingly beautiful to begin with, and Galaxy Press had constructed its own stage for the presenters. A camera “jib” at least 15 feet high was deployed to get sweeping overhead shots of the 400-plus attendees during the ceremony. Makeup artists applied last-minute touchups to speakers as they were ushered backstage by a floor manager. There were even “seat fillers” to occupy empty chairs temporarily vacated by presenters and presentees.

The Taglyan Complex ballroom. That little black & white spec in the middle is me. (Photo courtesy Author Services Inc.)

And the food. My God, the food. I’ve attended more banquets than I care to remember, consumed more rubber-chicken dinners than my stomach cares to remember. You do enough of these things, the meal itself becomes superfluous and one pecks perfunctorily while wondering how long it’ll be before you can bolt the room and head for the nearest McDonald’s. But not at the Taglyan Complex. Everything was delicious, from the appetizers straight through to the dessert. I was particularly taken with an avocado-and-grape concoction served early on. Sitting next to John Goodwin, I was hard-pressed not to scoop up his portion when he briefly left the table.

My other tablemates comprised an illustrious lot. John and his lovely wife Emily were to my right; Dr. Beatrice Kondo (whose late father Yoji was a Writers of the Future judge) and her mother sat to my left. Beatrice, representing the board of directors of The Heinlein Society, was there to bestow upon Dr. Gregory Benford (another WotF judge) the 2019 Robert A. Heinlein Award for his efforts “to nurture and promulgate good science fiction and fantasy.” She was delightful, as were our fellow diners Todd McCaffrey (Anne’s son) and first WotF Grand Prize winner Dean Wesley Smith, who not only admitted to owning a copy of the Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide but also shared his reminiscences of our mutual friend, uber-collector Bill Trojan.

Master of ceremonies Gunhild Jacobs got the evening’s presentations off to a grand start. The presenters constituted a Who’s Who of contemporary SF writers and illustrators, among them Orson Scott Card, Bob Eggleton (a nine-time Hugo winner who was given the evening’s Lifetime Achievement Award), Todd McCaffrey, Larry Niven, Jodi Lynn Nye, Tim Powers, Dr. Robert J. Swayer, and Dean Smith. There were 12 winners in each category: writers Christopher Baker, Carrie Callahan, David Cleden, Preston Dennett, Andrew Dykstal, John Haas, Kyle Kirrin, Mica Scotti Kole, Rustin Lovewell, Wulf Moon, Elise Stephens, and Kai Wolden; and illustrators Aliya Chen, Alexander Gustafson, Yingying Jiang, Sam Kemp, Qianjiao Ma, Allen Morris, Jennifer Ober, Josh Pemberton, Emerson Rabbitt, Christine Rhee, Vytautas Vasiliauskas, and Alice Wang.

Some of the acceptance speeches were particularly noteworthy. I was especially taken with Preston Dennett, who confessed to writing 47 entries (contestants can make submissions on a quarterly basis) before having one chosen. Now that’s dedication! A few winners made great personal sacrifices to achieve their dreams of becoming published authors and illustrators, and their stories too I found quite moving.

My address went well, I thought, and was warmly received. I received many compliments on it afterward, including one from the nonagenarian widow of Golden Age great A. E. van Vogt, whose classic “Slan” I had referred to as a thematic precursor of Marvel’s X-Men. It was enormously gratifying to receive praise from so many SF professionals. And I hadn’t been intimidated by the teleprompter or the international on-line audience. Truth be told, I enjoyed the hell out of myself while on stage.

Delivering my speech to an audience that neither fell asleep nor threw vegetables at me — so it must have been okay. (Photo courtesy Author Services Inc.)

All in all, the evening couldn’t have gone better. Having mounted some fairly elaborate events myself (including a film festival at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel just a block down Hollywood Boulevard from the Author Services building), I marveled at the apparent ease with which Galaxy Press had coordinated the whole shebang—a week-long confab that included workshops, seminars, and social events bringing together the pros and the tyros. Given my own experience it was easy to recognize that the logistical challenges in planning such a massive operation are incredibly daunting. But everything was organized to the nth degree and seemed to come off without a hitch, at least to my eyes.

Also, while I’ve had dozens of speaking engagements—at bookstores, libraries, museums, universities, conventions, film festivals, and the like—I’ve never been treated better than I was by John Goodwin and his staff. From the moment a driver picked me up at LAX Airport, it was apparent that everybody with whom I’d be dealing had been given a picture by which to recognize me and address me by name. Every single person was friendly and solicitous, despite the fact that they had far more important personages with whom to deal that week. It was a real pleasure to have been part of the ceremony.

The 35th Writers and Illustrators of the Future anthology is now available both on line and in better bookstores. I note that to date it has received unanimous five-star reviews on Amazon. Get yours today!

Finally, I want to thank John Goodwin, his wife Emily, contest director Joni Labaqui, MC Gunhild Jacobs, and all the wonderful folks at Author Services and Galaxy Press for showing me such a good time. Really, it was a thrill to play a small role in this delightful event!

I flew home on Sunday the 7th and had just two days to prepare for my trip to the 19th annual Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention—about which I’ll have plenty to say in my next post here.

 

 


Coming This Month: Forgotten Classics of Pulp Fiction

Posted in Forgotten Classics of Pulp Fiction,Murania Press on April 2, 2019 @ 10:49 pm

Before the trend toward specialization—before the hard-boiled dicks, before the Skylarks and Lensmen, before the Shadows and Spiders—pulp magazines offered escapist fiction that appealed to readers of all stripes. Virtually every story was suffused with the spirit of adventure; beyond that there was great variety in theme and setting. Qualities that became pronounced during the era of genre pulps were already evident in rough-paper yarns of the 20th century’s first two decades. Sadly, many great stories from this period are unknown to today’s pulp aficionados, especially inasmuch as the issues in which they appeared are hard-to-find collector’s items.

Murania Press has rescued from obscurity ten noteworthy novels originally published in such legendary pulps as Adventure, Blue Book, The Argosy, The Cavalier, and The Popular Magazine between 1908 and 1921. Some never saw publication in hard covers, others did but have been out of print for many decades. This group of exemplary stories, written by early pulpdom’s top fictioneers, is being republished as a series titled “Forgotten Classics of Pulp Fiction.”

Each book, measuring six by nine inches, utilizes the same cover design. Each is numbered on the spine, alphabetically by author. Each has an informative introductory essay putting the novel and its author in proper historical context for maximum appreciation by readers.

Stories in the “Forgotten Classics” series take place in a variety of locales: India, the Appalachian Mountains, the American West, the Gobi Desert, the Canadian northwest, the French Riviera, the South Seas, colonial-era Kentucky, and a mythical Balkan state. Within the group a reader will detect genre elements that would become more distinct and pronounced in pulp fiction of subsequent decades. But each novel is, at its core, a rousing adventure story clearly and vividly told. You’d never guess these gems were written a hundred or more years ago.

Murania Press has previously published four of the listed novels in its “Classic Pulp Reprint” series. Those books, now withdrawn from circulation, sold for $20 per title. Each of the “Forgotten Classics” volumes is priced at $16, and the entire set of ten will be available at $120, which includes shipping to buyers in the United States.

The “Forgotten Classics of Pulp Fiction” will begin shipping on May 1. Between now and then we’ll be running individual blog posts with additional information on each book. For now, here are the titles and the magazines from which they have been sourced:

1. H. Bedford-Jones, The Wilderness Trail. Originally published in the February 1915 issue of Blue Book.

2. B. M. Bowers, The Spook Hills Mystery. Originally published in the November 7, 1914 issue of The Popular Magazine.

3. George Bronson-Howard, The Return of Yorke Norroy. Originally published in the October 1908 issue of The Popular Magazine.

4. A. M. Chisholm, Fur Pirates. Originally published in the October 20, 1915 issue of The Popular Magazine.

5. J. Allan Dunn, Barehanded Castaways. Originally published in the December 20, 1921 issue of Adventure.

6. George Allan England, The Elixir of Hate. Originally published in the August-November 1911 issues of The Cavalier.

7. Francis Lynde, B. Typhosus Takes a Hand. Originally published in the October 20, 1921 issue of The Popular Magazine.

8. Talbot Mundy, Yasmini the Incomparable. Originally published in the January 1914 and July-September 1915 issues of Adventure.

9. Perley Poore Sheehan, The Abyss of Wonders. Originally published in the January 1915 issue of The Argosy.

10. Gordon Young, Savages. Originally published in the May 3, 1918 and July 18-September 3, 1919 issues of Adventure.

 


Collectibles Section Update: March 28

Posted in Collectibles For Sale on March 29, 2019 @ 12:04 am

I’ve just added 30 listings to the site’s Collectibles for Sale section — pulps, pulp replicas, first-edition hardcovers, even a 1929 playscript. Several listings offer multi-piece lots, and there’s a good number of rare, desirable, high-grade items in the group.

Along with adding the new material for sale, I’ve cut prices on items that have been listed for many months. The reductions are between 10 and 33 percent, which makes for some good deals. So while checking out the new stuff, take another look at the old items!

Here are a few of the newly listed items….


2019 Windy City con’s Film Program: Friday schedule

Posted in Conventions,Movies on February 1, 2019 @ 3:32 pm

Each year’s programming at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention includes a pulp-related Film Festival sponsored by Murania Press. Below are our program notes for the 2019 lineup. Due to their length, we’re giving you just the Friday selection in this post; blurbs covering Saturday’s films will follow immediately in a second post.

Windy City’s Film Festival is almost as old as the convention itself: 2019 is our 18th year of screening motion pictures and TV episodes—many of them quite obscure—adapted from stories originally published in pulp magazines. This year, as always, we’ve managed to scrounge up a number of rarities you’re likely to be unfamiliar with, so when the dealer-room action becomes overwhelming and you need a break, by all means mosey on over to our “theater” and relax with one or more of these little gems.

FRIDAY

12:00 p.m. — THE NERVOUS WRECK (1923), 74 minutes.

Adapted from “The Wreck” (Argosy All-Story Weekly, December 3, 1921-January 7, 1922) by E. J. Rath [Edith Rathbone Brainerd].

Pulp devotees often forget that the top all-fiction magazines originally appealed to general audiences before shifting to an action-adventure orientation. The early Munsey pulps, today remembered primarily for their “scientific romances,” cast a wide editorial net and, among other things, ran lightly humorous stories mostly aimed at female readers. E. J. Rath (real name: Edith Brainerd) was a master of such easily digestible confections and placed dozens of them with The Argosy, The All-Story, The Scrap Book, The Cavalier, and Munsey’s Magazine between 1906 and her untimely passing in 1922 at the age of 37. Her final yarn was “The Wreck,” serialized in late 1921 by Argosy All-Story Weekly. Subsequently licensed for the stage, it was adapted by prolific playwright Owen Davis as The Nervous Wreck and enjoyed a Broadway run that lasted nearly the entire 1923-24 season.

Hollywood producer Al Christie, who rivaled Mack Sennett and Hal Roach in the mass production of comedy short subjects, purchased movie rights to the play and brought it to the screen in 1926 with Harrison Ford—a light comedian whose film career was on the wane—as Henry Williams, a dithering Pittsburgh hypochondriac who believes himself afflicted with a dread disease and goes to Arizona in search of a cure. In the desert wilds he undergoes a series of misadventures that lead to robbery, elopement, and pursuit by the local sheriff.

Adapted by F. McGrew Willis and directed by Scott Sidney, The Nervous Wreck does quite well by Rath’s original, adroitly blending character comedy with broad slapstick for a bubbly cinematic concoction. Incidentally, the property’s life was extended when theatrical impresario Flo Ziegfeld bought the Owen Davis adaptation and reworked it into a stage musical titled Whoopee! Starring Eddie Cantor, the lavishly mounted production logged more than 400 performances in its 1928-29 engagement before being licensed by Samuel Goldwyn, whose 1930 Technicolor film version featured Cantor and other members of the Broadway cast. A huge success, it’s still considered a classic and is one of the oddest motion pictures to boast a pulp-magazine story as the basis of its plot.

1:30 p.m. — THE MISSING MILLION (1942), 78 minutes.

Adapted from “The Missing Million” (The Popular Magazine, June 20-August 20, 1923) by Edgar Wallace.

The filming of crime novels by Edgar Wallace was practically a cottage industry in England, with dozens of his yarns brought to the screen there over a 40-year period. Wallace adaptations occasionally could be expensive, star-studded affairs, but more often than not they were economical little potboilers with middling casts—U.K. equivalents of Hollywood “B” movies. The Missing Million, turned out under stringent wartime restrictions, definitely belongs to the latter group.

When young millionaire Rex Walton (Ivan Brandt) disappears after receiving a blackmail threat, his sister Joan (Linden Travers) enlists the aid of Scotland Yard Inspector Dicker (John Stuart) to find him. The trail is strewn with corpses—members of an underworld gang who have tried to double-cross their mysterious boss, known as The Panda. Walton had drawn a million pounds from his bank account before vanishing, which lends urgency to Dicker’s search. And there’s another complication: Rex’s fiancée Dora (Patricia Hilliard) is a member of The Panda’s organization.

Some of Britain’s Wallace adaptations received theatrical distribution stateside, but The Missing Million wasn’t one of them. And until its recent release on DVD in the U.K., this film was all but forgotten in its country of origin. Not as snappy as The Flying Squad, which we screened here last year, it certainly has the flavor of a typical Wallace crime story. Anyone familiar with actors who regularly appeared in English-made movie melodramas will guess The Panda’s identity early on, although possessing that knowledge won’t be an impediment to enjoying the show.

3:00 p.m. — THE SHADOW (1940), Chapters One through Seven, app. 150 minutes.

Partially adapted from the Shadow Magazine novels “The Green Hoods” (August 15, 1938), “Silver Skull” (January 1, 1939), “The Lone Tiger” (February 15, 1939), and the Shadow radio episode “Prelude to Terror” (January 29, 1939).

Although we would have sworn The Shadow was run in its entirety at a previous Windy City convention, a review of past Film Festival schedules reveals that in the past 18 years we’ve shown only a few odd chapters as representative samples. As it’s one of the few chapter plays adapted from a hero pulp, we figured there’s no time like the present to give this fast-paced romp a complete screening, which is being done in two lengthy sessions.

An audacious if not entirely successful fusion of the character’s pulp and radio incarnations, The Shadow boasts a substantially original screenplay that incorporates elements from three of Walter B. Gibson’s novels and a 1939 radio broadcast. Veteran character actor Victor Jory, coming off widely praised “heavy” portrayals in Dodge City and Gone With the Wind, was cast in the title role based primarily on his superficial resemblance to the Lamont Cranston depicted in the Street & Smith magazine, and secondarily for his sublimely creepy rendition of The Shadow’s sepulchral laugh.

The industrial life of a major city is threatened by a criminal mastermind known only as the Black Tiger, who attacks prominent industries and the men controlling them. At wit’s end, Police Commissioner Ralph Weston (Frank LaRue) and his ace investigator Joe Cardona (Edward Peil) enlist the aid of criminologist Lamont Cranston (Jory) to help them run the Tiger and his gang to earth. Unbeknownst to them, Cranston is also The Shadow, a mystery man whom the police believe is just as crooked as the malefactors he brings to justice. His loyal assistants include Margot Lane (Veda Ann Borg) and Harry Vincent (Joseph Young, a.k.a. Roger Moore).

The first Columbia serial entrusted to independent producer Larry Darmour, who for several years supplied the studio with chapter plays made on shoestring budgets to maximize profits, The Shadow was directed by James W. Horne, whose film career dated back to the nickelodeon days. His ten episodic thrillers for Darmour teem with lowbrow humor (mostly targeting the heavies) and florid overacting but are invariably entertaining, The Shadow ranking as best of the lot.

Immediately following Friday auction — TEXAS TRAIL (1937), 58 minutes.

Adapted from “Tex Ewalt” (Short Stories, January 25-February 10, 1922) by Clarence E. Mulford.

We continue our string of Hopalong Cassidy films with one of the very best series entries (and there were 66 of ’em), which demonstrates just how good a simply plotted “B”-grade horse opera could be when dressed up with picturesque locations, evocative musical scoring, and an extremely personable cast. Texas Trail, like many Hoppys, is not surfeited with action sequences, saving most of the hard riding and fast shooting for its suspenseful climax. But director David Selman dresses up the narrative with nice little scenes of character development, especially between series star William Boyd and 12-year-old rodeo star Billy King, making the second of his four appearances in a Cassidy film.

The Spanish-American War is underway and the Bar 20 hands are training for what they hope will be deployment with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. The Cavalry, however, has other plans for Cassidy and his men: It urgently needs replacement mounts and assigns Hoppy to round up a herd of wild mustangs in the remote Ghost Canyon district. With loyal pals Lucky (Russell Hayden) and Windy (George Hayes) at his side, he leads the Bar 20 outfit on what promises to be an arduous trek. Unscrupulous renegade Black Jack Carson and his gang follow surreptitiously, planning to rustle the captured horses and sell them to the Cavalry at exorbitant prices.

Officially (in publicity material and screen credits), Texas Trail is identified as an adaptation of “Tex Ewalt,” serialized in the Doubleday pulp Short Stories and published by the company in a hardcover edition titled Tex. Actually, the film uses nothing from its ostensible source material. One could accuse us of duplicity in labeling it a legitimate pulp-story adaptation. Well, okay, guilty as charged. But Texas Trail is so darned entertaining that we’re willing to wager you won’t mind a bit once you’ve seen it.

 

 


2019 Windy City con’s Film Program: Saturday schedule

Posted in Conventions,Movies on @ 3:12 pm

10:00 a.m. — THE LEOPARD MAN (1943), 66 minutes.

Adapted from “The Street of Jungle Death” (Strange Detective Mysteries, July-August 1939), revised and expanded into the novel Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich.

Cornell Woolrich’s output—novels and pulp stories combined—was the basis of a good many classic “B” movies and films noir. We’ve already run some of the more obscure; this one is better known and commercially available. But The Leopard Man is such a crackerjack little picture that, after revisiting it at home a couple months ago, we couldn’t resist slotting it into this year’s film program.

The black leopard employed in a nightclub act escapes during an engagement in a small New Mexico town. Following the death of a young girl at the beast’s claws, a posse is formed to hunt the man-killer. Other victims fall prey to the leopard and suffer similarly gruesome fates. Press agent Jerry Manning (Dennis O’Keefe) and his client Kiki Walker (Jean Brooks), for whose act the leopard was rented, are devastated to have been the unwitting cause of this reign of terror. But then evidence surfaces that human agency might be behind the grisly murders. . . .

Third of nine stylish low-budget films produced for RKO by Val Lewton, The Leopard Man was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who also helmed Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943), the unit’s previous sleeper hits. Made in just four weeks on a budget of less than $150,000, this third Lewton offering exhibits the same ingenuity in maximizing thrills while minimizing expenditures. Robert de Grasse’s cinematography, utilizing clever lighting effects to create an atmosphere of nocturnal terror, can reasonably be characterized as “virtuoso,” and Mark Robson’s editing sustains a measured pace while heightening tension during sequences that depict the stalkings and murders. You’d be hard pressed to find a more suspenseful 66 minutes in any motion picture of the era.

11:15 a.m. — HIGH TIDE (1948), 72 minutes.

Adapted from “Inside Job” (Black Mask, February 1932) by Raoul Whitfield. Reprinted in The Hard-Boiled Omnibus (Simon & Shuster, 1946).

An obscure “B” movie released by humble Monogram Pictures, one of Hollywood’s smallest studios, High Tide some years ago was “rediscovered” by film noir cultists who proclaimed the modest thriller an unjustly neglected work. It had come to our attention in the early 1970s with the private screening of an old, worn 16mm TV print. At that time. though, we were unaware of the original story’s pulp origin.

The narrative gets underway at night, showing us a wrecked car on a beach. One passenger, newspaper editor Hugh Fresney (Lee Tracy), has broken his back in the crash and is immobile. The other, private detective Tim Slade (Don Castle), is pinned beneath the vehicle. Both are certain to drown as the high tide sweeps in. Helplessly awaiting their finish, Fresney and Slade reflect on the strange circumstances that brought them to this point.

Although lacking the bravura visual style of noir classics like Phantom Lady or Out of the Past, High Tide has the archetypal characters familiar to genre devotees: the sultry femme fatale, the cynical private eye, the hapless fall guy, the brutal crime boss, the scheming “big shot” cloaked in wealth and prominence. The narrative is well developed, although noir fans doubtless will figure out what’s going on long before Robert Presnell’s screenplay spells it all out. But this is a taut, compelling film, and one of the very few adapted from a non-series Black Mask yarn.

12:30 p.m. — THE SIN OF NORA MORAN (1933), 65 minutes.

Adapted from “Burnt Offering” (The Underworld, August-October 1930) and “The Woman in the Chair” (Complete Underworld Novelettes, Summer 1932) by Willis Maxwell Goodhue.

Nora Moran has an odd pedigree. Its plot was originally developed for a 1930 pulp novelette that the author, playwright Willis Maxwell Goodhue, subsequently used as the basis for a stage drama, The Woman in the Chair, making significant changes in the process. Then, using the play as inspiration, he composed a new prose version and sold it to another rough-paper magazine! Goodhue primarily wrote breezy comedies for the stage, and Nora Moran was not just his sole property adapted by Hollywood, but also his only melodrama.

Convicted of a murder she did not commit, Nora Moran (Zita Johann) is executed—the first woman in her state to die in the electric chair for 20 years. Her sad story unfolds in a series of flashbacks and hallucinatory interludes, with additional explanation provided by District Attorney John Grant (Alan Dinehart).

Sin of Nora Moran reached the screen as a vanity project undertaken by independent producer Phil Goldstone, who attended a performance of the Goodhue play and saw in it a potential showcase for actress Zita Johann (best known for her role in Boris Karloff’s 1932 horror hit The Mummy), with whom he was infatuated. Goldstone, a highly successful businessman, was best known in Hollywood as a money lender who supplied short-term loans to cash-strapped studios during the Great Depression’s darkest days. A dilettante filmmaker, he not only earned interest on his money but as a courtesy was loaned popular contract players for key roles in his Poverty Row productions. During principal photography Goldstone replaced original director Howard Christie after becoming convinced that the latter wasn’t effectively utilizing his stage-trained star.

Using the then-daring “narratage” technique—which relied on a series of non-chronological flashbacks knitted together by a narrator—the bizarre, morbid Nora Moran today is considered Poverty Row’s meisterwerk, a characterization we’re not prepared to refute. See it and judge for yourself.

1:45 p.m. — FAST AND LOOSE (1939), 80 minutes.

Adapted from “Fast and Loose” (Argosy, February 25-March 25, 1939) by Marco Page [Harry Kurnitz].

“Marco Page” was the pseudonym employed by critic and journalist Harry Kurnitz for his 1938 whodunit Fast Company, winner of that year’s “Red Badge Detective” contest sponsored by Dodd, Mead & Company. In addition to collecting the thousand-dollar prize, Kurnitz saw his first novel published by Dodd, Mead and quickly optioned by M-G-M, which rushed a film version into production. A murder mystery set in the rarified world of high-end bibliophiles, Fast Company had as its reluctant sleuths the rare-book dealer Joel Glass and his wise-cracking wife Garda. Metro, looking to duplicate the success of its popular “Thin Man” series, cast second-tier stars Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice in the leads, changing their characters’ surnames from Glass to Sloane.

While not exactly a runaway hit, the Fast Company movie did well enough to justify a sequel, so M-G-M commissioned Kurnitz to write one. In a concession previously granted pulp favorite Max Brand, then providing stories for the studio’s Dr. Kildare pictures, Kurnitz was allowed to sell a prose version of his screenplay to Argosy, which serialized “Fast and Loose” just as the resulting movie was playing its first-run engagements. Unlike the original novel, it never saw print in book form.

The sequel once again embroils Joel and Garda (now portrayed by Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell) in a bibliomurder, this one revolving around the theft and potential forgery of a Shakespeare manuscript. The dramatis personae include a shady millionaire, his wastrel son, his trusted broker, an eccentric supermarket tycoon, and a crooked nightclub owner.

The Kurnitz screenplay doesn’t quite reach the mark set by Fast Company. Nor can we honestly say that Montgomery and Russell match Douglas and Rice in their portrayal of the Sloanes. The first film’s stars were relaxed and breezy; the second’s somewhat less so. Their byplay seems forced and ever so slightly inauthentic. Nonetheless, Fast and Loose moves briskly and is a slick, entertaining programmer.

3:15 p.m. — THE SHADOW (1940), Chapters Eight through Fifteen, app. 160 minutes.

Partially adapted from the Shadow Magazine novels “The Green Hoods” (August 15, 1938), “Silver Skull” (January 1, 1939), “The Lone Tiger” (February 15, 1939), and the Shadow radio episode “Prelude to Terror” (January 29, 1939) by Maxwell Grant [Walter B. Gibson].

In these final eight episodes The Shadow’s struggle with the Black Tiger reaches a shattering climax—but not before there’s been plenty of laughs and fast-paced action.

Immediately following Saturday auction — CHEROKEE STRIP (1937), 56 minutes.

Adapted from “Cherokee Strip Stampeders” (New Western, October-November 1936) by Ed Earl Repp.

A burly, red-headed baritone from New Jersey, erstwhile band singer and radio vocalist Dick Foran played small roles in a handful of Fox films (including Shirley Temple’s first starring vehicle, Stand Up and Cheer) before signing a long-term contract with Warner Brothers in 1935. The studio had just decided to reenter the horse-opera market and was about to begin production on a low-budget oater titled The Boss of the Bar-B Ranch. But surprising audience reaction to a warbling Westerner named Gene Autry—seen in a 1934 Ken Maynard picture titled In Old Santa Fe and boosted to stardom in The Phantom Empire, a Western serial with science-fictional trappings—persuaded Warners to enter the singing-cowboy sweepstakes.

Boss of the Bar-B Ranch was retitled Moonlight on the Prairie and slightly rewritten to accommodate two songs performed by newly minted star Foran. Given better-than-average production mounting, Moonlight elicited generally favorable reviews and satisfied audiences. Foran’s acting left something to be desired, although his dime-novel dialogue and caricaturish Texas accent was partially to blame. In subsequent Westerns he delivered relaxed performances, although his robust vocal style always seemed more appropriate to the stage than to the sage.

Cherokee Strip, a reasonably faithful adaptation of Ed Earl Repp’s pulp novelette, has as its background the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 and casts Foran as a frontier lawyer who comes to the aid of homesteaders being victimized by cattle rustlers. At a negative cost of approximately $99,000 it was by far the most expensive of the star’s 12 “B” Westerns, but also one of the most successful. The film’s box-office fortunes were heavily skewed by the surprise Hit Parade success of its featured song, “My Little Buckaroo.”


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