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Windy City Pulp Show: Film Program

Posted in Film Program,Windy City pulp convention on March 29, 2023 @ 9:04 pm

The 2023 film program contains several obscurities, as usual, and we acknowledge this year’s 90thanniversary tribute to the 1933 hero-pulp explosion with a screening of George Pal’s Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, a fan favorite not previously shown here. We’re also including remakes of popular pulp adaptations featured in early Windy City movie lineups. With adventure, drama, mystery, suspense, horror, Westerns, and science fiction all represented in the schedule, it’s our hope there will be something for everyone. As always, we invite you to take a periodic break from dealer-room shopping, get off your feet for a while, and enjoy one or more of these great films adapted from pulp-magazine stories.


12:00 pm — Burn, Witch, Burn (1962, Anglo-Amalgamated Pictures, released in the U.S. by American-International Pictures, 90 minutes)

Adapted from Fritz Leiber Jr.’s “Conjure Wife” in Unknown Worlds, April 1943.

College professor Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) seems to be living a charmed life. Everything is going his way and he’s the odds-on favorite to be named department head, even though most of his colleagues have been teaching there much longer. When Norman learns his superstitious wife Tansy (Janet Blair) has been practicing witchcraft to ensure his good fortune, he insists she burn all the paraphernalia she’s used to craft the spells protecting him. And that’s when bad things starts happening to Norman. . . . 

Leiber’s “Conjure Wife” had previously been filmed as Weird Woman (1944 Universal), a reasonably effective “B”-grade chiller that didn’t entirely do justice to the original story. Burn, Witch, Burn (released in England as Night of the Eagle) takes its own liberties with the source material but on balance is a more faithful adaptation. Wyngarde is a tad too arrogant to make Norman a wholly sympathetic figure, but Blair—who spent most of her film career in musicals and comedies—scores decisively as the apprehensive wife. The script by Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson is literate and well-constructed, and Sidney Hayers’ direction masterfully builds suspense that culminates in a genuinely shocking climax. 

01:45 pm — Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975, Warner Bros., 100 minutes)

Adapted from Kenneth Robeson [Lester Dent]’s “The Man of Bronze” in Doc Savage Magazine, March 1933.

            The year is 1936. Famed surgeon and adventurer Clark Savage Jr. (Ron Ely) and his five intrepid aides (William Lucking, Paul Gleason, Michael Miller, Darrell Zwirling, and Eldon Quick) travel to the South American country of Hidalgo in a bid to locate Doc’s father, who has disappeared in the jungle. Their mission is opposed by unscrupulous Captain Seas (Paul Wexler), who fears that the Bronze Man and his companions will beat him to a fortune of Incan gold said to be located in Hidalgo.

Loosely adapted from Lester Dent’s first Doc adventure, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze was produced by George Pal, the erstwhile producer of animated cartoons who graduated to feature films in 1950 and turned out a slew of memorable fantasy, science fiction, and adventure movies. He gets screen credit for co-writing Doc’s script with Joseph Morheim, and while the two men successfully incorporated elements from several of the pulp novels, they undermined the effort by layering the yarn with “camp” touches that, sadly, were only enhanced by Michael Anderson’s tongue-in-cheek direction. Even so, there’s plenty to enjoy here, and former Tarzan Ron Ely makes an imposing Doc. A sequel was already in development when the original’s disappointing box-office returns forced Pal to cancel it.

03:30 pm — Under Eighteen (1932, Warner Bros., 79 minutes)

Adapted from Agnes Christine Johnson and Frank Mitchell Dazey’s “Sky Life” in Everybody’s Magazine, October 1929.

            Young seamstress Margie Evans (Marian Marsh) lives in a crowded tenement flat with her parents, her sister, and her worthless brother-in-law. Discouraged by her lack of financial prospects, Margie yearns for better things and is reluctant to marry her hard-working boy friend, milk-truck driver Jimmie Slocum (Regis Toomey). A quirk of fate brings Margie in contact with millionaire Raymond Harding (Warren William), who has a not-entirely-deserved reputation as a cad. He takes an interest in the seamstress when she crashes a pool party at his New York penthouse.

Marian Marsh made a strong impression as the ingenue in two 1931 John Barrymore dramas for Warner Bros., Svengali and The Mad Genius, inspiring the studio to give her a big build-up and a star vehicle. Under Eighteen was that film, and it’s a sterling example of the type of motion picture in which Warners specialized during the early Depression years. No other Hollywood production entity was so adept at depicting life in the big city and portraying the disappointments and disillusionments of barely-employed working stiffs struggling to get by. Tenements in M-G-M or Paramount films were shabby but clean and tranquil; in Warner Bros. films they had men and women lolling on fire escapes or rooming-house stoops, kids playing in the streets, babies crying, street vendors speaking Yiddish, and so on. Under Eighteen is hardly the best of its type, and it failed to advance Marsh’s career as Warners had hoped. But it’s solidly entertaining and boasts some terrific performances, especially from the perennially underrated Warren William. 

Following auction — Stagecoach War (1940, Paramount Pictures, 62 minutes)

Adapted from Harry F. Olmsted’s “War Along the Stage Trails” in Dime Western, July 1937.

            Crusty old Jeff Chapman (J. Farrell MacDonald) needs new horses for the rag-tag stage line he’s been managing for years. He buys a small herd of mustangs from the Bar-20, which entrusts delivery of the mounts to top hands Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd), Lucky Jenkins (Russell Hayden), and Speedy McGinnis (Britt Wood). Chapman’s competitor Neal Holt (Harvey Stephens) has a crush on the old man’s daughter Shirley (Julie Carter) but would happily drive her father out of business if he could. Complicating matters are the robberies being pulled by an outlaw band getting inside information from Holt’s foreman Twister Maxwell (Frank Lackteen).

When producer Harry Sherman in 1935 licensed screen rights to Hopalong Cassidy from author Clarence E. Mulford, he obtained two dozen novels for potential adaptation. It took less than five years to run through them, forcing Sherman to commission original screenplays and license Western stories from other writers. Stagecoach War was the first film in the long-running series to be based on a non-Hoppy yarn, Harry Olmsted’s “War Along the Stage Trails.” Scripter Norman Houston was tasked with grafting Hoppy and his pals onto Olmsted’s plot. Although this 30th series entry has a number of strong points—including an unexpectedly engaging group of bad guys and a good musical score—it also has several weaknesses, the most glaring being a weak ingenue in Julie Carter, for whom Lucky rather inexplicably falls hard. 

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