Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Straight to Hell and assorted Western-themed oddities

Some weeks ago we held the annual summer meeting of the Finnish Western Society in which I've been the chairman for over ten years now. What we really do is publish the magazine called Ruudinsavu, meaning Gunsmoke, with articles, essays and reviews of all things western. In our annual summer meetings - this time not held during the summer, as you can see - we have a habit of watching some pretty stupid and outlandish western films, such as The Terror of Tiny Town or the Czech Lemonade Joe. This time we watched - or actually tried to watch - some five films. We really failed at three. Here's a lowdown.

The first one was Winnetou, the German-made film with Lex "Tarzan" Barker in the lead as Old Shatterhand. The scenery of the film shot in Yugoslavia was very nice and there was some nice action, but we had the film only with the Bulgarian subtitles and it wasn't even dubbed in English, so we pretty much gave up on it and went to sauna. [Edit: I fixed this bit, since it was explained to me that Barker played Old Shatterhand, not Old Surehand - just have to wonder where Karl May picked the names for his characters!]

After sauna we ate chili with tortillas and watched Alex Cox's Straight to Hell (1987), a film I'd always wanted to see, but for some reason always failed. I've liked everything I've seen by Cox (especially Repo Man and Highway Patrolman), but this proved to be a disappointment. Well, it was said to be disappointment already when it came out. There was still some pretty cool and outrageous pre-Tarantino violence and some familiar faces throughout the film. Not much sense in any sense of the word, though.

Then we tried to watch the only really good film in the bunch, the Portuguese sardine western (cf. spaghetti western) called Estrada de Palha, Hay Road in English. The story about a Portuguese translator of Thoreau trying to right some wrongs with his rifle reminds one very much of Budd Boetticher's and Monte Hellman's minimalist westerns, but it was so slow-moving the other guys didn't want to watch it. Here's the trailer, though.

Our host, Sami, had bought some Turkish pirated movies some years back and one of them was western-themed. I forgot the title already, but it was about a stupid jerk who truly loves his westerns and wears a Stetson all the time and beats the big town baddies just with his luck. Without any titles, we gave up on this pretty soon. I don't really know why we even tried. It was fun for the first 15 minutes, I guess.

The last film - and we were pretty wasted at this time - was the godawful The Legend of Alfred Packer (1980) that looks like some guys from the small town summer theatre get lost in the desert during winter and start eating each other in scenes that are lit only by candlelight. There's no word to describe this atrocity, but we did have some fun with it, especially with the beards everyone's wearing. I don't know why, but the ancient Finnish VHS cassette boasts the director of the film has won the Academy Award (actually it says he won the "Oskar", whatever that is), but I didn't know there were those for the worst films.

I think the other guys were left watching the 1994 Bad Girls, but I left home to get some sleep. It was a fun night, but not for everyone.

More Overlooked Movies here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New publications

I just picked these new publications earlier today from the publisher and the printers. From the left: a small collection of Olavi Karjaliini's really weird stories from the 1830's, the new issue of Seikkailukertomuksia / Adventure Stories and the small booklet containing my translation of Ray Banks's hilarious PI story "Dirty Barry".

The Karjaliini book is a true oddity. I was going to publish it myself, but then it came to me to ask my regular publisher Turbator if they wanted to do it. And they did. These are very crudely written stories in dated vernacular, published in Elias Lönnrot's (the guy who did Kalevala) magazine Mehiläinen / Bee. None of them have ever been published in antiqua font, so I typed them up and wrote a short foreword. Turbator did a print run of 100.

The issue of Seikkailukertomuksia is the fifth and it will be the last one as I simply don't have enough time or energy to do these things or to broaden the reader base. The issue contains six stories:

Jussi Katajala: Hämäys (a new western short story by a good writer)

H. de Vere Stacpoole: Ihmeellinen muisti (published originally in Finnish Kiki 12/1929, translation by unknown, a mystery story by classic of the adventure genre, but I've been unable to locate the original title)

Iisakki Evä: Bora-Boran valkeapää: kertomus Etelämeren saarelta (published in Lukemista Kaikille 23/1934, originally probably a Swedish story, based on the fact that the story is accompanied by illos by a Swedish illustrator, Gunnar Ljungdahl - nevertheless the first real zombie story in Finnish I've encountered!)

Eino Leino: Laulu Vuorilammella (published in the book called Päiväperhoja, 1903), a weird, somewhat horrorish short story and a political allegory from the classic writer whose short fiction I've earlier published in Isku and Ässä

Juri Nummelin: Valkoisten jättiläisten valtakunta (the last installation of my sword and sorcery serial with the last Bjarmian in the lead, facing some white giants and their squid-like leader; will publish the serial later on as a paperback, fully edited and rewritten)

Hannu Väisänen: Mannerheim vignettes (some short-short stories about Marshal Mannerheim and his encounters with the classic adventure fiction heroes)

As for Ray Banks - well, he's Ray Banks. Go read the original story in English, it'll do you good. Both of my publications have very limited print runs. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: Robert Colby: The Captain Must Die

Thanks to Kindle and Prologue Books, I was finally able to read this magnificent crime paperback by Robert Colby that has been getting praise from the likes of Ed Gorman for some years now. I've earlier read some very good short stories by Colby and his paperback novel Beautiful but Bad (Monarch 1962), but this one has eluded me. Not anymore, of which I'm very glad.

The Captain Must Die (Gold Medal 1959) is one of those late fifties to early sixties noir paperbacks that tell about paranoia, broken dreams and people's hatred towards each other. This is firmly set in the world of well-being suburbs and tells about what's going behind the happy facade. This is also about the effects of war and the frustration that it breeds. Colby weaves his plot smoothly, albeit he has also fragmented it in a way that seems way ahead of its time - at least for a 50-year old crime paperback! Some scenes are very exciting and suspenseful. The ending may a be a bit too happy, though. (The cover lets us suppose it's a war novel. It's not - the war is in the background all the time.)

Here's Cullen Callagher on Colby's novel, and here's Ed Gorman, calling it a masterpiece. Here's Peter Enfantino's essay on Colby. Load the novel here. (And congrats to Prologue Books for doing this. There were some formatting and scanning errors in the Kindle version, but not so many that I'd actually complain.)

More Forgotten Books here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Strange One (1957)

I think this one really qualifies as an Overlooked Film, especially in Finland, where it's never been shown in the Finnish Film Archive's screenings and it was last seen in TV in 1971. There is a rather recent DVD, but there hasn't been much talk about the film, at least in the venues I follow. I managed to see the film last Monday, when it was - for the first time, I believe - shown in the Film Archive screening here in Turku.

The Strange One was made in 1957, during a time when there was discussion on the new wave of American film making and the likes of John Cassavetes, Shirley Clarke, Lionel Rogosin and Irving Lerner. Jack Garfein fits the bill perfectly. The Strange One is a somewhat noir-influenced film about sociopathic Ben Gazzara who bullies other cadets and freshmen around a military academy somewhere in the South. Gazzara, making his film debut here, is simply wonderful in his moves and gestures. He's great in that he makes sure he's actually the only likable character in the film, albeit his misanthropic attitude. All the other characters in the story are stupid or irritating, so the viewer gets to sympathize the wrong guy. There's a strong noir undercurrent in The Strange One, one we know from the work of Jim Thompson and Jason Starr.

You probably realize that "The Strange One" refers to homosexuality - the title could be given to a gay/lesbian sleaze paperback of the early sixties. There's lots of homosexuality in The Strange One, from the latent homosexuality manifested in Gazzara's violent threat to the obviously homosexual writer of the barracks who wants to call Gazzara "Nightboy", clearly a queer moniker. The depiction of homosexuals in the film isn't overtly sympathetic, though.

The ending of the film could've been stronger, but it also has a surprise not many can see. This is based on Calder Willingham's novel End as a Man - I have it, but have never read it, any comments on it? The script was also by Willingham, from the play he made from the novel.

The Strange One is an alluring film that was ahead of its time in its depiction of homosexuality and sociopathic behaviour behind the walls of an institution. Some have said it's an analysis of American fascism. Whatever name you give the phenomena it depicts, The Strange One is still a powerful film in its own, marred only by some staginess and some overblown acting. What's most curious about the film is that the director Garfein is an Auschwitz survivor! His other film, almost dialogueless Something Wild, seems also very interesting.

More Overlooked Films here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Urban Waite: The Terror of Living

This debut novel by the 28-year old writer made its way, rather surprisingly, into Finnish. It's a very good crime novel, reminiscent of work by Cormac McCarthy (especially No Country for Old Men) and Robert Stone, at times perhaps by Elmore and Peter Leonard. Urban Waite isn't going for comedy, though, like the Leonards at times do.

The Terror of Living is a sad novel about oldish criminals and ex-cons. There's also a young marshal, who's trying to make past wrongs right and catch the dope peddlers. There's also the Vietnamese mafia and a serial killer who's sent to find the lost drug loot. There are some very ugly moments, but the over-all effect is melancholic and lonely. Waite's people are lost in remote landscapes and trying to grasp each other and failing to do so. Comes quite highly recommended.

The Finnish title is Pelon rajalla (On the Border of Fear or some such). Thanks very much for Karisto for publishing the translation! I'm a bit afraid the book will be lost amidst all the Scandinavian megabores and other superthrillers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tuesday's, er, Wednesday's Overlooked Movie: Best Seller

When I first saw this film back in the day, I was very surprised to see a clever, critical and well-thought crime film. It has stuck with me for years, but you know what happened when I just saw the film again for the first time in 20 years?

It wasn't that bad, really. Especially given that I found the VHS cassette in a trash bin, and the explosive first scene - the big caper with Nixon masks on the robbers - was left out from the TV-taped film. The film was still entertaining and interesting enough to warrant the revisit, but the film suffered from being too much from the eighties, you know, full of testosterone, but still with somewhat stilted narration. There are holes in Larry Cohen's script and the whole concept of the film seemed a bit implausible, but the character of James Woods is left vague enough to stir up interest. Brian Dennehy is his usual affable good, but I'm not sure if he's convincing as a cop author.

But still, criminally overlooked if you look at the eighties' cop films in general. Best Seller doesn't ask easy questions nor does it give easy answers. It's just that you don't really know what the question is.

Hey, Vince Keenan reviewed the movie here!

More Overlooked Films here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

My Kindle

I just bought a used Kindle via net and received it today. I've already registered it and downloaded - is that the right word here? - all the 81 free e-books I've earlier downloaded from Amazon for the Kindle Reader I've tried to use on my laptop. Seems like I've got a shitload of new noir and hardboiled from writers like Dave Zeltserman, Anthony Neil Smith and Roger Smith, with some classics from Prologue Books, like Whit Masterson and William Campbell Gault. If only I had some extra time in my hands...