Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Overlooked Films: The Son of Tarzan (1920)

After rereading and reviewing this fourth novel in the Tarzan series (that's HERE), I decided to poke around and see what Hollywood had done with the book. This is it - a 15-chapter serial made way back in 1920, when the story was only four years old.

I haven't seen this one, so I'll just be looking at what posters and pics I can find, and make guesses about how they relate to the book.

Our story begins on Jungle Island, off the coast of Africa, where nudity is apparently acceptable.

This geek, I assume, is Alexis Paulvitch, second-banana villain of The Beasts of Tarzan, who, due to his evil deeds in that tale, was stranded on the island for ten years. The actor in the ape suit, I assume, is playing Akut, who's been missing his pal Tarzan for lo, these many years.

Akut is mighty smart ape, so Paulvitch takes him to London for a stage show. But Paulvitch, by nature a mean S.O.B., is no pleasure to work for.

Cut to stately Greystoke Manor, where ten-year-old Jack Clayton has been kept in the dark about his pop's ape man days. Jack is strangely obsessed with all things African and anthropoid. Denied permission to see the Akut show, he sneaks out and goes anyway.

Paulvitch acts up one too many times, and Akut kills him. Jack decides to escort Akut back to Africa. On the ship, Akut kills another evil human. I'm not sure which killing this poster portrays, but the result is that Jack is stranded in Africa with no money and no I.D.

Jack eventually goes native and changes his name to Korak, which is apese for "Killer." Enter Meriem, stolen when very young from her French aristocrat father by an evil Sheik. After years of torment, Korak spirits her away to a life of fun and games with his pal Akut.

In the book, Korak becomes sexually aware when Meriem is kidnapped by a bull ape with a gleam in his eye. After kicking the ape's butt, Korak gets a similar gleam. Meriem, though, is still too young for that birds-and-bees stuff. Apparently our movie Meriem blooms sooner.

So, unlike the young couple in the book, their movie counterparts begin a jungle romance.

But - and you had to know this was coming - Meriem is snatched by evildoers, and after being rescued from a couple of fates-worse-than-death, she ends up as a guest on the Greystoke Ranch. Poor Korak believes her dead until he spots her out riding with a snooty English dude. In the book, our pure-hearted hero realizes that a now-sophisticated babe like her could never go for a dirty ape man like him, and resolves to help her find happiness with her new (apparent) love. Not so in the movie, where hatred fills his heart.

In the book, the unlucky gent at left would likely be the evil hunter who has those fate-worse-than-death designs on Meriem. But because the movie takes place in a parallel African universe, it might just as easily be her horse-riding partner.

This scene is straight out of the book, and was considered important enough to grace the dust jacket of the first edition (see that HERE). The evil Sheik returns to cause more trouble, catches Korak, and plans to burn him at the stake. Luckily, Tantor the elephant storms in, yanks the stake out of the ground and carries Korak away. Unluckily, Tantor is too dumb to free him, and too pig-headed to allow anyone else to do it, so the junior ape man is carted around for a couple more chapters until Tarzan saves the day.

Tarzan, in his third big-screen appearance, is portrayed by a guy in a bad wig named P. Dempsey Tabler. He soon retired from acting and made a fortune in the advertising business.

Korak, in this first big-screen appearance is portrayed (in adult form) by Hawaiian actor Kamuela C. Searle. Legend has it that Searle died during the filming of Chapter 15, when the elephant dropped the stake and crushed him to death. That tale may be slightly exaggerated, since Searle was uncrushed enough to make a film the following year for Cecille B. DeMille. Searle's brother insisted he died of cancer in 1924.

More Overlooked Films (many of which the reviewers have actually seen) are featured at Sweet Freedom.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Forgotten Books: UNSEEN SHADOWS by Jim Steranko (1978)

Painting for Shadow paperback 22, The Silent Death

Pencil rough for The Silent Death

If you're a Steranko fan OR a Shadow fan (and especially if you're both, like me), this is a nice little book to possess. Published in 1978 by Mr. Steranko's company Supergraphics, it measures 8 x 10 1/2", features eight pages of text and sixty pencil-drawn paperback cover concepts. You also get (on the wraparound cover) the cover paintings for the Jove paperbacks The Silent Death (at top) and The Death Giver (at bottom). You do not get color reproductions of the paperback covers themselves. I supplied Shadowed Millions and Fingers of Death (below) for illustrative purposes.

The artist's introduction provides insight into his process for turning a rough idea into a finished painting. Most of the creative work, he says, is done in the sketch stage. Once all the creative decisions have been made, he completes a finished cover painting in an average of three days. The only thing I know about art is how to look at it, but I found his breakdown of the process mighty interesting.

Also of interest: He says that in 1972, when DC announced plans for a Shadow comic, he, Alex Toth and Berni Wrightson (among others) were interested in the job, but later dropped out (the slot went to Mike Kaluta, who produced five beautiful issues, but the remaining seven fell to other hands, and were hugely disappointing - to me, at least. Steranko passes no judgment on them). When the series looked like it might be a success, Steranko had discussions with Marvel about creating a similar character for them. Dang. That would have been good.

Steranko started work on the Shadow covers for Pyramid in 1974, and his first thirteen covers were faithful to the character's pulp image. Shadowed Millions (below) is an example of this period. Then in 1976, the imprint changed to Jove, and the publisher's new personnel asked for more action - and more scantily-clad women - in an attempt to boost sales. The other covers and sketches shown here are all from the Jove period. The action is great, but, while I have nothing against scantily-clad women, they seem out of place flaunting their charms with the Shadow.

The sketches in Unseen Shadows are reproduced in actual size, the actual size of a paperback book. In some cases, Steranko did only one sketch before moving on to the painting. But in others, he experimented with two, three and even four pencil roughs.

First rough sketch for Shadowed Millions

Final sketch for Shadowed Millions

The published masterpiece

First rough for Fingers of Death

Second rough for Fingers of Death (my favorite)

Final sketch for Fingers of Death

Our hero does not look happy

Pencil rough for The Death Giver

OK, must admit I like this one

Patti's back! More Forgotten Books at pattinase.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

SHEENA, Queen of the Jungle - and WILL EISNER, too!

Sheena, a British import, made her U.S. comic book debut in Jumbo Comics 1 in 1938, but didn't make the cover until the following year, in no. 9, as depicted by Lou Fine. No, that ain't her with the gnarly teeth. She's flying out of the tree at left.

In 1940 she makes her second cover appearance in this illo by Will Eisner.

Sheena's third Jumbo cover, also 1940. This one's a collaboration by Eisner and Bob Powell.

More adventures of Sheena on the way.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Overlooked Films: Jack Webb in PETE KELLY'S BLUES (1955)

I started Pete's Kelly's Blues knowing absolutely nothing about it. From a glance at the movie posters, I figured it was a bluesy, noirsy mystery set in the contemporary world of 1955. Wrong. There's a big hole in my education on the subject of Jazz History, which this film made abundantly clear.

Pete Kelly's Big 7, I now know, was a hot combo in the late '20s, and were still going strong when this film was made. In fact, the songs performed by the band of actors was recorded by the real Pete and his gang. It's great stuff, and though I've searched the library in vain, there are quite a few tunes on YouTube.

The film opens in 1915 New Orleans, as mourners bury an unnamed but well-loved coronet player. As they leave, the dead guy's horn falls off the hearse and is lost. Cut to a railway boxcar in 1919, where hobos and other economy-class travelers are shooting craps. One bum produces the coronet, and a fellow traveler buys it. The buyer turns out to be Pete Kelly (Jack Webb, natch) still in uniform after returning from the war.

Cut to Kansas City, 1927, where the rest of the movie takes place. Pete and the band (which includes Lee Marvin and Martin Milner) are being shaken down by gangster/promoter Edmund O'Brien, who insists on being their manager. He insists so hard that Milner soon winds up dead and Marvin leaves town. Pete, though, decides to play it safe and wienie under to O'Brien's demands. And he keeps on wienying until the end, when he, O'Brien and Andy Devine (in a rare tough-guy role) engage in a three-way shootout.

The movie starts off well. It's not only in color, but widescreen, and nicely filmed. And along with the Pete Kelly music we get at least two performances each from Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee. Lee Marvin is great, though there's too little of him. And Janet Leigh is easy to look at. The dialogue is sharp, tough and well-delivered by all concerned, included Jack Webb. Webb also does some voice-over narration, Dragnet-style.  In describing the speakeasy where his band performs, he says, "The whisky is aged, if you get here late in the day." Nice.

Webb's performance, as you'd expect, is wooden. Maybe not quite as wooden as on Dragnet, because he does lock lips with Janet Leigh a couple of times. We see him smile once or twice, and maybe even laugh. Other than that, he has only two expressions: stern and surprised. He's great at stern, but he apparently learned surprise by studying silent movie comedians. It's that bad.

The main problem with Pete Kelly's Blues is that the story builds so slowly that by the time it seems about to take off, the movie is over. But the music makes it almost worth the letdown.

More stuff I didn't know: Pete Kelly's Blues was a short-lived radio show in 1951, conceived and written by Richard L. Breen, the guy who wrote this screenplay, and starring Jack Webb. (Those episodes are available for free download on various sites, including this one HERE.) That would be at about the same time Dragnet (which had already been on the radio for two years) was starting it's TV run. THEN, in 1959, Webb was executive producer of a Pete Kelly's Blues TV series, starring William Reynolds as Pete, and Connee Boswell (of the Boswell Sisters!) as a singer. That I'd like to see.

Overlooked Films is a weekly cultural experience nurtured by Todd Mason of SWEET FREEDOM.