Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Zorro “Monasatario Sets a Trap”


This 1957-59 TV series was chosen as one of the 52 Weeks, 52 TV Westerns, and the “Favorite Episode” pick was Season One Episode 7.

To begin with, I adore Douglas Fairbanks’ Zorro films, I think Don Q, Son of Zorro may be the better of the two. Full of zest, life and derring do.

So, there is this hurdle to cross—a 1950s low-budget television production will find it hard to match that but…

Prior to watching this episode, I had just spent time with a single episode each of other 1950s swashbuckling television.

Those being The Adventures of Robin Hood, Sword of Freedom, The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, and Ivanhoe with a pre-007 Roger Moore.

All of these were British series, with low-budgets, and all were uniformly thoughtfully written to make up for the budget deficit.

[Admittedly, Ivanhoe was the weakest of the British pack, but still no slouch.]

After viewing these, coming to Zorro was a bit of a letdown.

Yes, it was written for children, but after viewing these other series that seemed to straddle the line of “Enough action for kids, enough witty banter and intrigue for Big Kids” the Zorro fare seemed a bit peaked, particularly all “comedic” moments.

This is perhaps a show that is stronger in memory than it is in viewing.

Personally, if you have a taste for swashbuckling I would advise skipping Zorro and delve into the Robin Hood and Lancelot adventures—both were quite strong, with Sword of Justice as an adjunct if you are still hungry for more.

Of course, there is always Fairbanks—tremendous!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

“The Fastest Gun” by Will Bryant


Brother Bill wasn't like me--he was a real lawman. You could tell. He looked lop-sided without his gun and he had a bullet-notched ear. He had a way of coming into a room and closing the door with his foot, like he didn't want his hands full of doorknob at the wrong time. And he would stand there and size everybody up. There was some good marshals there in those days, like Heck Thomas and Bud Ledbetter and Bill Tilghman. Brother Bill was cut from the same hide.

They was all good with a gun. Fast? Well, fast enough. You didn't hear much about a man being fast with a gun. Folks would say that so-and-so was good with a gun. There's a difference. Being fast was a part of it, all right. But being slow is something, too.

That is from the 1961 story, “The Fastest Gun” by Will Bryant. Bryant asserts that although cast in fictional form it is based on something witnessed by his grandfather, Mince Bryant.

The story’s details all drip with authenticity, from weapons to the history, to the ammunition--the centerfire cartridge revolver that still used black powder at the time meaning that the details of sighting and firing through stinging smoke ring true.

More from Bryant.

The deputy had stopped and pulled his gun--he was about as fast as a man reaching for his watch to see it's time for lunch. The outlaw--he was fast. That big Colt roared and bucked and each time a long streamer of smoke would lance out. The deputy squared away, both feet planted, and he settled his gun but into the upturned palm of his left hand, a two-handed grip, both hands right straight out in front of him. Then he fired.

I won’t give away more, the story is a brief 5 pages—I’ll leave this mini-delight to those who can run it down. It popped up for me in an estate sale shipment.

Easily my favorite “fictional” gunfight, stands tall alongside Charles Portis’s forensically detailed bullet trajectories in his classic novel True Grit.

This is fiction that rings true and calls to mind, the non-fictional Wyatt Earp’s statement:

Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.”

For a quick draw drill or two, see our article on Poker Chip Draws.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

A Man Called Shenandoah “The Verdict”


A selection from the useful volume 52 Weeks 52 TV Westerns [also reviewed on this blog.]

For those new to the show, Robert Horton plays an amnesiac Civil War veteran who wanders the West in search of his identity, along the way we have the requisite weekly encounters that must be resolved in dramatic fashion.

An intriguing premise, and I had seen a few episodes in the past. The value of the aforementioned book is that many entries offer a “Best Episode” sidebar, and for this series that episode was “The Verdict” written by Daniel B. Ullman.

Admittedly, I find Horton fine, if a bit of an underplayed lead that does not compel this viewer, but there is strength in this episode and that comes from its two guest stars.

A young Bruce Dern providing a weaselly loathsome callow performance as only he can do, and Ed Asner as attorney Sam Chance.

Asner is so storing here he carries the show and led this viewer to play, “What if, this led to a series called Sam Chance, Frontier Lawyer.”

The first two acts are well-played and buoyed by the co-stars, the third act must have the required gunplay and is a bit of a letdown.

Overall, grateful to have the guide to point to a single “best” to allow a taste.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Jonah Hex: Shadows West by Joe R. Lansdale


He was a hero to some, a villain to others, and wherever he rode people spoke his name in whispers.

Vertigo Comics revived Joe Albano’s DC/Vertigo character and handed the pen over to novelist Joe R. Lansdale and the art to Timothy Truman and Sam Glanzman.

This compilation brings together three series of stories: Two-Gun Mojo, Riders of the Worm and Such, and Shadows West.

The original Jonah, character, story and art were clearly modeled on the Clint Eastwood incarnation of Forrest Carter’s Josey Wales, with a mix of George Gilman’s Josiah Hedges thrown in for good measure.

The artwork here is superlative and frame-filled with images the original could only hint at.

Story wise, well, Lansdale in his introduction states himself that he recalled when younger he thought that Jonah Hex was involved in a supernatural West but upon re-reading a run of issues he discovered that was not the case.

In this re-boot, Lansdale plays to his memory rather than the original character.

The first series, Two Gun Mojo is the least supernatural aka Weird West of the three, and for this reader far more successful. A lot of fun is had exploring this version of the West—plays as a sort of lost Josey Wales film.

The other two stories are practically pure Weird Western with a heavy dose of Cthulhu Mythos. So much so the stories seem to lose the “Western” feel. If it weren’t for costume and dialogue props to the Old West, it could be any setting just so long as we get to the weird aspect of it all.

Don’t get me wrong, I had fun with the volume, but far more so with the first [and lengthiest] Two Gun Mojo.

More in this vein would be mighty welcome.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Pursued Starring Robert Mitchum


This 1947 film written by Niven Busch and directed by Raoul Walsh is considered the first noir Western, and indeed, it listed as such in Frant and Hodgkiss’s volume Renegade Westerns.

It has long been championed by Martin Scorsese who paid out of pocket for its restoration.

So, how is the film?

It is indeed dark, moody, flash-back filled, rife with Freudian overtones.

It has all the requisite ingredients of an urban noir film.

I found the flashbacks and Freudian pre-destination a bit much for my tastes but…it is not a bad film and the sleepy-eyed cool of Robert Mitchum makes all hum along at a brisk pace.

No A to my eye, but I lack the expertise of Mr. Scorsese, I would bet his side of the ledger over mine.

Friday, May 12, 2023

“The Alchemist” by Loren D. Estleman


The long man smelled like a French king.

The scent, heavy with crushed violets and lime water and oil of oleander, was his principal distinguishing feature after his great height, which compelled him to bow his head to clear the lintel and afterwards stand with shoulders rounded and his hat off to avoid colliding with the objects that hung from the beams. The hat was a new Stetson, blocked into the Texas pinch, with a brown leather sweatband to which clung a number of cut hairs. He had been to see Juan Morales then, and after his haircut and shave had visited the Aztec Baths and had his brown wool suit brushed and his white shirt boiled in corn water and pressed with a flatiron while he soaked away the hard crust of sweat and sand that had formed like a salt rind during the long ride from the border. His plastered hair was black and glossy, he wore a gringo mustache with ends that trailed, and his thinker’s face was long with sorrow. To his vest was pinned a five-pointed star and a shield, nickel plated, without engraving.

A winner of the Spur Award for Short Fiction in 1996 and expanded into the novel Journey of the Dead in 1998, this is undoubtedly written like a dream.

Adding to the dreaminess is the somewhat metaphysical nature of the theme.

Both versions of the tale are, undoubtedly, one of the most original takes on the Pat Garrett/Billy the Kid mythos.

Estleman is a fine writer, the craft is art here. I was at a little remove due to the oddness of the approach but that does not diminish what the author presents.

No matter the take away, what is rendered is art.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Rio Conchos


A tight 1964 Western based on a Clair Huffaker novel, translated to the screen by Joseph Landon and directed by Gordon Douglas.

The cast is led by a superlative Richard Boone, with an early and impressive appearance by Jim Brown and Tony Franciosa having a blast in a “never cast it that way these days” role.

The late Elmore Leonard was once asked what actor gave voice to his dialogue as he conceived it—he said, one man, Richard Boone.

Boone’s performance is nearly the entire show here. From leer, to snarl, to quiet moment, to tough or incredulous line readings—top hand the entire way.

Unfortunately, what keeps this film from traipsing into A territory is a wooden performance by Stuart Whitman. His cavalry officer is so ramrod straight and present in too many scene to really shake off this imposing effect.

But…what is good here, is very good.

Well worth a look or a second look for those who are already fans of tough-minded westerns.

Friday, May 5, 2023

“The Therefore Hog” by A.B. Guthrie


We went downstairs, where Slaughter said he’d have a little hair of the dog and wound up with most of the pelt.

This brief tale by Guthrie was selected as one of the 100 Best by Mr. Lewis.

I shall split with the fine editor here. I usually dovetail with his tastes just fine, but this first-person dialect laden story is of the “I’m joshin’ with ya in this ol’ yarn” variety.

Your tolerance for such fare may be higher, and in that case this may be a winner for you.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

A Thunder of Drums


This 1961 film stars Richard Boone as a hardened cavalry officer and George Hamilton as the fresh lieutenant with much to learn.

What drew me to this, initially, was the supporting role played by Charles Bronson, but, I must admit, this was a bit of a letdown as he plays against type as a lazy recruit with a mindless chuckle.

Didn’t quite work for this viewer.

But we do have a script by James Warner Bellah based on his superlative story, “Command.”

The cavalry aspects of the script have an authentic snap to them but, unfortunately the non-military elements are middle-grade soap opera.

What does shine here is Richard Boone. Tough. Wise. Authoritative.

If there is a reason to view this B-Western he is it.

Superlative performance.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Comanche Captives by Fred Grove


From here he could see the pattern of the white-topped encampment. Wagons, tongues pointed inward, corralled in a rectangle: that shape because, in event of attack, it allowed greater movement and afforded easier penning of stock without the confusion and whirlpool effect of the circle, a defensive tactic learned from Mackenzie. The troopers’ shelter tents just outside. Next the mules and horses, then the sentries. Besides being staked out, sidelined and guarded, most of the animals wore chain-connected leather hobbles attached to picket ropes. Until just before dark the stock had been grazed away from the train, which assured grass near camp when moved in later. Baldwin’s own mount was on iron picket pin and hobbles close to the ambulance.

This 1963 Spur Winning novel might best be called a “Calvary Procedural.”

It is tight on cavalry protocol, not just battle tactics, but the minutia of travel, bivouac, and all the other mundane aspects usually glossed over in action-only novels.

Lest I make that sound like the novel is event-free, not at all. It is terse and swiftly paced. Grove has a way to weave his details so that the day to day feels part and parcel of the narrative without being mere “info-dump.”

The plot is simple: Get these people from here to there safely.

In many respects it is one of formula but, it is more than that. While not a delve deep into character story, we still learn enough along the way about these individuals via their actions and reactions to events to come to know them.

It is easy to see why this one picked up top honors.

A Frontier Phrase Worth Resurrecting: “He Bubbles Pure"

  [Excerpted from our book The Frontier Stoic: Life Lessons from Those Who Lived a Life.] “ He bubbles pure .” ·         Said of a man w...