Friday, June 30, 2023

A Quinn Martin Invasion!

For many years the only experience I ever had with Quinn Martin Productions' The Invaders TV series was through the excellent Big Little Book I got hold of as a kid during the shows brief heyday in 1967 and 1968. I read and enjoyed "Alien Missile Threat" a few times and still have my original and much cherished copy.

But over the intervening years I've been able to get hold of the show itself and give it a proper viewing. I was mostly inspired not only for my love of vintage sci-fi TV, but specifically to see how this show influenced my favorite 90's TV show The X Files. And as it turns out, quite a bit.

The first season followed swiftly on Quinn Martins' successful The Fugitive, and no secret is made that they wanted another show following along those lines. So Larry Cohen cooked up the notion that a lone man, a witness would pursue the threat of alien invasion single-handedly and single-mindedly. The first season was as much a study in paranoia as a sci-fi thriller. While the viewer is reasonably confident David Vincent (played masterfully by the exceedingly handsome Roy Thinnes - according to my wife) has truly seen aliens, few of his fellow characters believe him and he himself doubts from time to time. Slowly and relentlessly, he uncovers threat after threat following the vaguest of clues around the country, and often stopping the menace. But while it's a compelling concept, it's alas a limited one. And even by the end of Season One, you can tell the framework of the series is changing.

Those changes are all too evident in the second and final season as David finds allies in his struggle against the aliens, a group of "Believers" who funded by an important and wealthy industrialist are able to up the ante in the battle against the invaders. Kent Smith plays the industrialist Scoville who becomes a virtual co-star through the remainder of the series run.  Eventually the authorities are drawn into the secret war and by the end of the season it's hardly a matter of David's sanity, but merely a question of how effectively the human race itself will face this looming and growing threat. The second season offers up much more detail about the aliens themselves as we learn there are factions within their ranks, not all of them thinking the invasion is a good thing for anyone. They have a decidedly caste society with some few designated as "Leaders", of which only a half dozen have come to Earth. We get to see inside the iconic spaceships more than once, and the invaders themselves die in droves as they meet their maker by immolating in a bright red after death.

It's a fun, fun show with solid acting and often solid scripts. Some are better than others, but all have the professional patina a viewer can associate with any Quinn Martin show. There's a snap and briskness to the whole endeavor which speaks of quality. The special effects are downright good for the time, and in the final season are often on display. I imagine though if the show had gone on much longer it would've gotten dreary as the struggle against the invaders by definition needed to advance and develop or become repetitive. This happened on The X-Files after several years. The mystery can only be maintained for so long before it becomes an enigma of little interest to anyone.

The Invaders was adapted to not only Big Little Books, but also to comic book form. Below are the covers to the four issues of the comic published by Gold Key. Here are some links which will take you to a site where you can read the complete issues beautifully rendered by the painfully under-appreciated Dan Spiegle. Just click on the issue numbers - go to The Invaders #1, #2, #3, and #4.

Also there were some paperbacks written by the likes of Keith Laumer and others which filled in details of David Vincent's battle. If you would like to check these novels out, all three are available at the Internet Archive at this link

And finally, there's this Whitman gem, a novel which serves as a companion of sorts to the BLB. It's a great stark image of Vincent as he runs in terror from the approaching saucer. The evocative logo for the show is much in evidence on this one. This too is available at the Internet Archive at the following link. 

Great stuff, and highly recommended. If you can find The Invaders for a reasonable price, I don't think you'll be disappointed. And as they dramatically announce at the beginning of every episode, it's "in color".

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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Thursday, June 29, 2023

Flying Saucer Comics!

Flying saucers have waxed and waned in popular culture for decades now. In the early 50's the concept was just beginning to take its shape. Comics were quick to take advantage of the fad and gave us several comics referencing the mysterious flying objects. Vic Torry and his Flying Saucer appeared in 1950 and featured the work of artist Bob Powell underneath an attention-getting photo cover. To read this strange UFO artifact check out this link to Atomic Kommie Comics Reading Room. 

Another comic book from the era is Avon's Flying Saucers, another one-shot. Underneath a fascinating Gene Fawcette cover you'll find some early artwork by the great Wally Wood. The mini-epic speculates about just how long aliens have been here on this planet, with echoes of the Shaver Mystery ringing in the background. To read this amazing comic visit this link to Atomic Kommie Comics Reading Room. (Thanks amigo for putting these classic yarns on the internet.)

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Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The True Story Of Flying Saucers!

I didn't realize this movie existed until I stumbled across it on YouTube. UFO or Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story of Flying Saucers was released in 1956. The movie purports to be a documentary, though the bulk of the run dramatized with an actor portraying a journalist who works for the United States government and is himself quite skeptical of UFO reports. Turns out this journalist was named Albert Chop and his real-life self came across the producer of the movie when the latter reported his own sighting. At that time Chop told Clarence Greene of actual existing footage of UFO's and two of those films become the cherry in this movie. 

The first twenty minutes or so of the movie showcase classic UFO sightings such as the Kenneth Arnold 1947 sighting which started the modern UFO craze. It then shifts focus to two Air Force encounters with UFO's, one of which resulted in a crash of a jet and the death of an airman named Captain Thomas Mantell. This story is of particular significance to me since it happened in my home state of Kentucky around the Fort Knox area. 

Then the story shifts to the "Albert Chop" tale in which the reporter is played by actor Tom Towers. To add authenticity to the story, many of the other characters in the yarn portray themselves and it's easy to spot the non-actors or the most part. Over the course of his involvement with UFO's Chop becomes increasingly convinced of their reality and especially so after squadrons of the unidentified lights buzz Washington D.C. a few times in 1952. The movie closes with Chop having been convinced. We also get to see several times during the movie actual footage of UFO's from Montana and Utah. Both quite compelling films in their day. 

This is a diverting, if at times somewhat droll documentary. I was often reminded of the approach Jack Webb used on the show Dragnet and others. We get the purported facts and only the purported facts. (Ironically Harry Morgan who co-starred on the 60's version of Dragnet plays some of the disembodied voices of air pilots in the movie as well.)

Give a whirl. It's well worth the ticket price. 

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Tuesday, June 27, 2023

The Coming Of The Saucers!

There might have well been ancient aliens, but the modern age of flying saucers began in 1947 when a lone pilot of a small plane reported nine shiny objects in the sky over Mount Ranier. That pilot was Kenneth Arnold and he wrote of this life-changing event in the book The Coming of the Saucers, a book co-written with Shaver Mystery enthusiast and Fate magazine editor Ray Palmer. 

The book is divided into two parts. The first was written by Arnold and he relates from a first-person perspective his famous sighting. He tells how he first saw the objects and the steps he used to guage their distance from him and their relative speeds. He says he saw nine mostly identical objects, save for one which had a bit of dark on its perceived front. Arnold gained notoriety for his sighting, one which touched off a wave of UFO sightings which have waned now and again but have never ceased into our current day. One such later sighting happened on a place Maury Island where another sighting had occurred, one in which debris had been spread and collected. Arnold was tasked by Ray Palmer to check out his new sighting and Arnold took with him an airline pilot named Captain E.J. Smith who himself along with is crew had reported a UFO less than two weeks after Arnold's. In fact most of the first part of the story is about how these two guys try to get to the bottom of a strange and bizarre tale which is filled with mysterious and likely untrustworthy types both in the government and out. The story is given much additional weight when two Air Force officers are killed in a strange crash after gathering up the purported fragments. 

The book then shifts authors and focus, when Palmer takes over. He discusses the Air Force's investigation of the events described above along with others. He then turns his attention to the long history of unknown objects in the sky reaching back to ancient times and moving forward relating scores of unusual fireballs and whatnot folks have witnessed through history.  He covers the infamous "Foo Fighters" in WWII. He then looks at modern UFO sightings across the globe up the time of the publication of this book in the early 50's. Most of the book is this kind of information, great for folks who had never had access to these strange facts. 

This is an historical tome, a record of the events which in many ways marked the beginning of a modern era for society after the end of World War II. It's a quick and information laden read. Recommended to those deeply interested. 

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Monday, June 26, 2023

The Shaver Mystery Book Three!

The Shaver Mystery Volume Three offers up two more tales from Richard S. Shaver of his revelatory look into the vast underground which sits beneath us all. The folks at Armchair Fiction had only intended to do two volumes dedicated to Shaver's works, but the stuff sold so magnificently that they couldn't help but to continue. It's a repetition of the situation when Ray Palmer realized he had a tremendous moneymaker on his hands way back when Amazing Stories first presented Shaver's yarns to the world. 

After an introductory letter from Shaver and an introduction by Ray Palmer we get the story "Thought Records of Lemuria". In this one our hero is none other than Richard Shaver himself and we are to presume I guess that the truth of this story will be enhanced by him using his real name. He becomes aware of thoughts in his head from mysterious sources and meets a woman named Nydia. She introduces him to devices which allow a person to see the past and that's just what "Shaver" does in this story. He mentally travels into a far distant time and hooks up with versions of the Norse Gods. 

"The Masked World" is a story of an underworld stronghold which is ruled by a despot. We follow several people who work together at great risk to slay the tyrant. They seek to use poison, a very special kind of poison. The villains in this one are really despicable, using people like cattle and using violence on helpless folks as entertainment. In Shaver's universe the hero often wins, but often at great cost. 

Armchair Fiction knew a good thing when they had it. The next volume of the series comes around next time. 

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Sunday, June 25, 2023

The First Kingdom - Vengeance!

The third volume from Titan Books collecting Jack Katz's epic story is titled The First Kingdom Volume Three - Vengeance. In these issues produced between 1980 and 1983 we continue to follow the long saga of Tundran as he having learned he was the son of Darkenmoor, first Kenmoor of Moorengan is beginning to take steps to take back his throne from the despot Vargran. He is joined by his mate Fara and a man named Nator. 

But as we amble toward the climax of this saga, Katz is all too ready for many diversions. One of his techniques is to have characters reveal themselves and tell long stories of their origins and doings. We have been trained by Katz that the thread of the main storyline is of interest only in that we are fully cognizant of the complex interrelationships of the many characters who tumble in and out of the narrative. When we think we know what's going on, we are given a tale which changes the game. In this issue we are treated to the story of Adack a Transgod. We learn that he was the lone survivor of the attack of a gang of space pirates and too deadly steps to stop them. Tundran and Fara for their part find civilization but are taken into slavery. 

In this issue we learn more about the sprawling history of the Transgods who are in actuality modified androids brought to Earth aboard the Galactic Hunter. We follow the story of one who encountered cruel pirates and was deposited on a supposedly uninhabited planet but who found life and even some degree of love. Tundran and Fara must fight in the arena as slaves to hope to regain their freedom. They do and find allies. 

Tundran has gained a ship and some allies and heads again to Moorengan. We are treated to another story of the Transgods, this one of a deadly war in the past in the depths of space. Vargran, the usurper comes under attack from those loyal to the true Kenmoor of Moorengan but thanks to the coniving ways of his Transgod counseler Nadan and his partner Tedra the plot is undone. Tundran and Fara find a chance to some small peace and romance before Tundran is charged by his followers to go and retake his throne. 

Tundran and Fara prepare forces to retake Moorengan and we are treated to yet another memory of a Transgod who tells of a subtrafuge on a far distant planet. We do then finally get some direct information about how the Earth was changed by the Transgods (then still androids) after the atomic conflagration that ended what we think of modern civilization. We see how some of the stranger aspects of the planet are the result of their tampering. 

The focus of this issue is yet another alien race called the "Ultranoids", one which like many described by Katz before it, thought it was the apogee of what was possible. This race could teleport across the cosmos but were ultimately trapped. It's suggested this race has a connection to mankind. Tundran finds more allies and begins the shape the force which will be used to retake Moorenagan. Tundran is given a choice to seek happiness or like his father seek vengeance. He chooses to lead the invasion forces to Moorengan, but how that will end remains unclear. 

At long last Tundran returns to Moorengan and scales the massive walls built by his father to protect the territory. He and Fara lead a small group into the kingdom to find allies in the mines where slaves are used. The do in fact find allies and the plot thickens. Tundran pretends to be blind and enters the city for the first time, fulfilling several prophecies of his eventual return. We leave him in this humble state as the third Titan volume closes. We are also told yet another story of the distant past from a Transgod attempting to reveal the real origins of mankind. 

This volume has more momentum than the previous one despite the many pages devoted to seemingly unrelated tales of outer space. Katz seems less interested in plot than theme, but he loses me often as the story rambles. Characters with strange names come and go with amazing speed, some crucial some trivial, or at least seeming to be. Part of me thinks he just likes drawing expansive space scenes. That's cool. This volume also contains a forward by Jim Steranko written for the original series run. 

Next time the first part of the saga finds a resolution. I hope. 

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Saturday, June 24, 2023

Hollywood Rat Race!

Hollywood Rat Race by Ed Wood Jr. is not a very exciting book. Overall I'd rate it as somewhat dull, but it does have its redeeming features. The book is really two things at once, a guide for wannabe Hollywood stars and starlets giving them a Woods-eye view of what it's like to break into the movie business. As you might guess from the title, Wood is not puffing up the experience, in fact you'd have to say he's trying his best (in his own weird way) of pushing them away from the idea of rushing to "Tinsel Town" straight out of high school and blowing whatever money they have by being unprepared for the requirements of the business. This is a book aimed to smarten them up. 

(Ed Wood, a dame and the devil of Hollywood)

In the first six or so chapters of the book, Wood details the varied and bountiful pitfalls of trying to land a job in Hollywood. Unscrupulous producers and tricksters of all stripes are just waiting for new prey to get off the busses from across the American landscape eager to strip what little money they might bring to the city to sustain them. Even if a budding starlet escapes those clutches, getting to see a legit producer is mostly impossible without an agent, and just hope you get an honest one. Even with an agent there are costs of potential wardrobe and headshots. Just living takes money and night jobs are the recommendation. Wood uses his own experiences and those of other wannabes as examples of what can go wrong. In this section the reader can have a blast counting how many times Wood mentions angora sweaters. It's a lot. 

(Roy Barcroft and Kenne Duncan)

The rest of the book is rich with Wood's fond memories of veteran character actors he's worked with over the years. He has great respect for Kenne Duncan, Roy Barcroft, and Reed Howes in particular. These guys are the kind of actor who last in Hollywood because they learned the game and fulfilled a need that the studios had for villains and men with singular talents. Later Wood describes how he and  Tor Johnson joined a Baptist church to raise money for Graverobbers from Outer Space (the working title of Plan 9 from Outer Space.)

(Bela Lugosi and Ed Wood)

But the absolute best part of the book is when Wood talks about Bela Lugosi. If Hollywood Rat Race had the grace and wit and charm shown in the stories of Bela and how Wood helped arrange a comeback of sorts for him in his declining years, it would be a delightful book. Instead of Wood yammering and imagining angora, we get him actually creating scenes with deft care and succeeding making the experiences some alive. The section is all too short, but it is wonderful nonetheless, filled with heart. 

The book was written sometime in the mid 60's, since Wood mentions his film Orgy of the Dead will soon be coming out and that happened more or less in 1965. Alas the book would not be published until 1998 long after Wood's demise in the late 70's.  One odd feature is that Wood rails on about how nudity should be used only to advance a story when he's just helped create a movie which is pretty much a strip show on celluloid. I cannot recommend Hollywood Rat Race to anyone save a Wood fan, but for us it's ultimately worth the effort. 

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Friday, June 23, 2023

Ed Wood Made Movies!

Ed Wood was not a writer, at least not a very good one. Ed Wood was not a director, at least not a very good one. Ed Wood was a movie maker. Whatever his many flaws as a creator, he got movies made, movies bearing his distinctive imprint. As much as many latecomers to the arena of so-bad-it's-good cinema might wish it, you cannot fabricate what Ed Wood brought the screen. A bizarre combination of ambition, intention, and flamboyance his movies are like none made by anyone else. Tim Burton captured that essence in his film titled simply Ed Wood

Of course, his reputation rests on the epic sci-fi classic Plan 9 from Outer Space, which blended grave robbing with flying saucers. But he made many other movies, not all of them science fiction. The first of his distinctive movies was Glen or Glenda, which showcases the travails of a transvestite in the modern of 1950's. Wood himself was a transvestite and he plays the lead in this strange movie, but very personal movie. Bela Lugosi shows up in a symbolic role. 

His next movie was Jailbait which was a crime thriller of sorts. It's remembered now because it was effectively the screen debut of Steve Reeves, the man who would be Hercules (or his clone) in countless sword and sandal epics. 

His next movie was return to a favorite area of interest with the science fiction thriller Bride of the Monster (originally titled Bride of the Atom). This time Bela plays a significant role as a mad scientist alongside Tor Johnson as his mute assistant "Lobo". 

He followed that up with The Violent Years about teenagers on the rampage, specifically a girl gang which terrorizes the local populace. 

And then came Plan 9 from Outer Space, the movie which defined his career, and eventually made Ed Wood famous, just as he'd always wanted to be. Sadly, his fame came too late, and he died broke suffering from too much drink. He'd spent the last years of his career working in pornography or movies which just this side of it. There is one movie called The Sinister Urge which is about pornography if not pornographic itself but I've never seen it. Night of the Ghouls was one me made for almost no money and couldn't get released. (It's the worst of his movies that I've seen.) Orgy of the Dead is a color flick he contributed too but didn't direct. It attempts to capture the Wood charm but is way too cheesy and much too slow. 

Burton chooses to leave Wood's story before all that tragedy. We see him, as portrayed by Johnny Depp, as a powerful personality, filled with ambition if not overwhelming talent who has a sensitivity for the offbeat characters who help fill up this world of ours. He was man who didn't fit into the normal world and was attracted to other oddballs who shared his situation. The modern world would label these folks losers, but it's those "losers" that Ed Wood seem to at once understand all too well and to celebrate. It's why his story and his movies have a charm which overcomes their many flaws. Ed Wood's movies showcase the strange, and strange people like them. I like them, so that must say something about me. Tim Burton is a director who seeks out the strange as well and so would be immediately attracted to Ed Wood's story. 

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Thursday, June 22, 2023

Grave Robbers From Outer Space!

Edward D. Wood Jr. is arguably responsible for the most famous flying saucer movie ever made. That movie is Plan 9 from Outer Space (originally titled Grave Robbers from Outer Space -- a more accurate title). The movie was once deemed the worst ever made, but of course that was not true then and is certainly not true now.  Plan 9 from Outer Space is not even the worst movie that Ed Wood ever made. (Night of the Ghouls - the sequel of sorts is way worse for instance.) The movie is filled with outlandish acting, amateurish set design, wooden dialogue, and a plot that makes little sense most of the time. But despite all of that, the movie has a great charm. 

(Possible inspiration for Plan 9 from Outer Space?)

For the very few who might not know, the saga begins with Bela Lugosi. Bela was down on his luck at the back end of a career which began with much promise but had fizzled. Bela was a drug addict and Ed Wood became his friend and dreamed of creating a movie starring the veteran actor. He succeeded with the movie Bride of the Monster which starred Bela alongside Tor Johnson as a mute named "Lobo". Wood had used Bela in his autobiographical movie Glen or Glenda also, but his role was more symbolic. By the time of Plan 9, Bela Lugosi had passed away. But Wood had footage of the old star and used this stuff as a jumping off point for a movie about grave robbers from space using dead bodies to presumably conquer mankind. The movie was a weird blend of science fiction and horror, and as we all know epic unintentional comedy. 

Wood tries to make hay on the flying saucer craze of the 50's as well, using model kits to populate his cinematic skies with attacking spacecraft. He also cast Vampira, a well-known movie host who had just been let go from that position. She never spoke but her singular look is one of the best things about Plan 9. Tor Johnson is back as a police officer and even gets to talk a little bit (his only lines in any Ed Wood movie he was in) before he killed and turned into a very threatening yet cuddly zombie. Our doughty hero is Geoffrey Walcott, an actor who would go on to have an actual mainstream career in spite of Plan 9. Sprinkle in small parts for veteran actors like Lyle Talbot and Tom Keene among a gaggle of relative amateurs and in Wood's mind you had the makings of a classic. 

(What a pair!)

Watching the movie again (I've seen it countless times) I was once again delighted by the humor which leaps from the screen. Cops slinging guns around with aplomb, prissy aliens getting in a snit, and he-man heroes trying to save both the girl and humanity are all part of a pageant which entertains relentlessly. Ed Wood might have made some bad movies (and he did) but he was diligent and sincere, so one is forced to take him at his word. Watch Plan 9 form Outer Space with the same seriousness Wood brought to it and it won't get better, but it will impress. 

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Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Mars Attacks The Cinema!

It's hard for me to believe it's been twenty-seven years since Tim Burton showed us how those pesky Martians might attack. 1996 seems so far away now, and given the changes in the modern world since then, even somewhat quaint. But Tim Burton was reaching even further back in time, to 1962 when Topps Cards delivered the delirious Mars Attacks bubble gum card set. In fact his movie Mars Attacks should have been delivered to audiences in glorious black and white, but that was never going to happen. (It would be fun for Burton to release a version in B&W.) 

The movie has its tongue firmly embedded in its cheek as it follows (mostly) the plot line detailed in the epic card set. Martians see Earth, come to Earth and proceed to conquer it with a ghastly array of weapons and methods. Some of these methods involve giant walking machines (H.G.Wells anyone?), flaming cows disintigrated soldiers, and hilarious saucer attacks on the monuments of Washinton DC, and other important sights around the aghast world. 

Mankind is at a loss to deal with the aliens, seeking at first to befriend them, but then realizing the true magnitude of the threat slow to deliver. Truth told, that doesn't sound like us, we'd likely do the opposite. The chittering aliens disintegrate folks to their little alien heart's content before their fatal weakness is uncovered by our doughty hero, a young mostly hapless chap who is warm but not terribly bright. 

A highlight of this show is Jim Brown who portrays an out of work boxer working in Las Vegas and who through thick and thin battles to save his family. Jack Nicholson holds down two roles, one as president of the United States and another as a Las Vegas wheeler dealer. The movie boasts a star-studded cast, and they do decent work. Tom Jones makes his movie acting debut in this one for instance to good effect. Pierce Brosnan is dandy as is a frenzied Rod Steiger as the one general who wants to attack the dang aliens. Lisa Marie is unforgettable as an alien assassin. 

The movie if anything is a little too absurdist too much of the time. I'd have liked to see among the humor a bit more real threat, but that's a small concern. Mars Attacks is an entertaining movie. But it should've been in B&W. 

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