January 24th, 2011

Original KING KONG not so great, after all?

I don't know how many times I've seen the 1933 KING KONG in my life. On broadcast TV (Channel 9 WOR from New York), once on the big screen at the Rhinebeck Art Cinema, on VHS and DVD. And I've always fallen under its spell. But now, I don't know why, something has changed. It just doesn't seem so convincing. Look at this scene and see if you agree.

Oh, all right. Seriously, this is from a Technicolor comedy short feature produced right after KING KONG was a smash. It's called THE LOST ISLAND and the gimmick was that the human characters were represented by puppets, while the dinosaurs and other giant beasts were played by live people in costumes. That's Charles Gemora in the ape suit.

Maybe Gerry Anderson should have tried this.


From August 1934, this is a real treat and a lot of fun for Doc fans. 1934 was in my opinion the best year for the series-- Lester Dent had developed the characters and themes, he had real enthusiasm and attention to detail in his writing, and the larger-than-life melodrama of that time still works today. In this particular book, Dent keeps the story moving briskly and convincingly and he builds up to one of the most satisfying endings of any of the books-- everything is neatly explained and settled.

THE SQUEAKING GOBLIN is a bit diffferent from most of the early books, as the menace is not world-threatening but more localized and believable. The gadgets get used used pretty lightly (Doc only uses one anesthetic ball, and that on a dog) but the bronze man does get to show genuine investigative ability. All five aides appear and are shown as competent, skilled crimefighters in their own rights. It's very refereshing that, for the first half of the story, Doc works with just Renny and Long Tom (two aides who usually don't interact much).

The Squeaking Goblin himself is one of the great villains of the series. Allegedly the ghost of old Columbus Snow (shot between the eyes eighty years ago), he appears as a lurking, phantom figure dressed in a Daniel Boone-like outfit, completely with doeskin blouse and high coonskin cap. He has a dead, lifeless face with deep empty eye sockets (eek!). The Goblin has killed over twenty people as the story opens, firing his long rifle (which makes a loud squeaking noise instead of the usual report and the bullets he shoots mysteriously disappear right after they hit.
Skulking about and sniping at people, disappearing when pursued, the elusive spook is a real candidate for the gallery of top foes which includes the Mystic Mullah, John Sunlight, the Annihilist, Dan Thunden, and Mo-Gwei.

The Goblin has stirred up the dormant feud between the Kentucky mountain families of the Snows and the Raymonds, until a full scale state of war exists. The feuding hillbilly theme is almost forgotten today, but (while it may not have been historically that accurate), that type of story was enormously popular in movies and pulp stories for decades. Dent does a very good job of setting the scene, describing the action and making the bloodshed seem genuinely horrifying and tragic. Perhaps his dialect seems a bit overdone by today's standards, but then local accents were in general more extreme before the influence of television homogeneized the way people speak.

I have one word of caution for crooks captured by crimefighters. If the heroes are going to interrogate you, insist on being taken indoors and away from windows. TWICE in this story, just as a prisoner is going to spill the beans, a bullet plows through his head right in front of Doc and his men. The most dangerous spots to be in are first, being interrogated by the bronze man, and second, trying to reach the 86th floor and inform him of the villain's evil scheme. You are more likely to be killed in those situations than in any other way (well, at least in a Doc Savage story).

Doc himself is in good form this time out. He can check the trouser cuff of a victim and identify the leaves and debris as coming from the Kentucky mountains, and at the same time, he can punch a big thug so hard that the bottom of the man's moccassins show. That's our boy. Once again, he deduces the identity of the villain very early on but he refuses to tells his aides who the Goblin really is, even at the very end of the chase. You'd think that Long Tom or Renny would blow up at least once and shout, ""What IS it with you, Doc? Stop screwing around and just give me the guy's name!" but it's ultimately a way to keep the reader in suspense.

The cover to the Bantam paperback is one of James Bama's better efforts. Against a gray sky with the moon low over the mountains, Doc is confronting the title phantom. While Doc is painted a pale gold with lots of shadows, the Squeaking Goblin is gray, surrounded by fog. In his buckskin outfit and coonskin hat, clutching a long rifle in one bony hand, the Goblin's face is shown as an actual skull with a thin layer of skin. Whoa! How could you not be intrigued by a cover like that?

I vote to let her swim

From 1962, a lovely pin-up from the great Gil Elvgren.

Right now, it's 11 degrees outside at 5:30 PM; it was 8 below zero this morning. The hard, ice-crusted snow is piled up so it sometimes feels like you're driving through a tunnel on the back roads and it's not even February yet. Looking at this art is a healing experience.

Today's mystery guest

He had nothing to do with killing Rasputin and he did not hide Anastasia in his attic. His contribution to the world was refined and pleasant.

His line of fine products bore his name, leading to people being slightly surprised that, like Dr Scholl, he was a real person.

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