Nineteen 1950’s SF Movies To Help Get You Through the Next Few Weeks

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

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Caltiki, The Immortal Monster

Let’s face it, most of us are going to be stuck at home for the next couple of months and although we all probably have a lot of reading to catch up on, ennui is inevitably going to set in sooner or later. Fortunately, we are living in the golden ago of home video and there’s a lot out there to explore. Here’s a list of what I (generally) consider the best science films of the 1950s, not limited to those made in America, but  also those shown in America. The ratings are on a 10+ to 1 scale (no “1’s” on this list) and all are readily available, with eBay being a great source of affordable entertainment you can own and not just rent, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see that many of these are also on streaming services for those who eschew physical ownership.

19. Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959: 8+): An Italian production filmed in Mexico. Accounts vary, but it is the first film at least partially directed by Mario Bava, who also did the moodily atmospheric cinematography. The story opens with archaeologists investigating Mayan ruins where they comes across a blob-like monster which they ultimately destroy, but save a bit in a small, glass-topped aquarium (never a good idea) and bring back to Mexico City. Also, something about a comet. Sub-genre: Blob movies.

18. Fly, The (1958: 8+): A decent effort, even it does devolve into “there are things that man is not meant to know” territory. Two weak spots are the cat’s audible meows after being sent off somewhere (and I didn’t like the family pet being used as an experimental animal) and the fact that the guy who gets the fly head retains human intelligence. Vincent Price does a nice turn as the scientist’s brother. Way less grotty than the remake. Sub-genre: science gone wrong.

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Writing Advice: Embrace Boredom

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

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This image reminds me a lot of a culture I have in an as-yet unfinished
five book series I’m working on. It’s like someone reached into my head
and pulled the image out. I love it. Nabbed it from wallpaperaccess.com.

Good morning, Readers!

I am just beginning my third week of working from home, and I’m getting a little too used to it. Returning to the office is going to be difficult, I think. There is something that I’ve noticed, though, now that I’m not away from the house at work, or at martial arts training, or teaching, as I usually am. I actually got bored yesterday.

I feel we’re all so obsessed over being productive human beings, we fill our days with work; most of it unnecessary or superfluous, pointless or meaningless just to keep boredom at bay. As a writer, however, I have a slightly different view of boredom, and if there is one thing I have to impart on aspiring writers,* it’s this:

Embrace boredom.

*I am published, but so very unknown, so take my advice with a giant helping of salt. Similarly, just because it works for one person, doesn’t mean it’ll work for all people, so take all writing advice with a giant helping of salt, no matter the source. Okay, good. Now let’s continue.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 2020 Stay At Home – Days One and Two

Monday, April 6th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Nero WolfeAssuming you’re one of the eight people (three of whom are not related to me) who regularly read my posts here at Black Gate, you know that my favorite series of all is Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. I love John D. MacDonald and Robert E. Howard and harboiled and Solar Pons and Glen Cook and a LOT more: but Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are number one.

When Ohio issued its ‘Stay at Home’ order, it got me to thinking about how Archie and Wolfe would do under New York’s order, which had been issued a day or two earlier. Now, all of the Wolfe fiction I’d written had been set somewhere between the thirties and the sixties. Modern-day Wolfe, with cell phones and whatnot, just doesn’t interest me. But I thought that it made sense to be contemporary, for the lockdown. For the characters, and for us to relate to them. So, here we go!

I’m posting these over on Facebook at The Wolfe Pack’s group page. If you’re on FB, and you like Nero Wolfe, you really should join this group. I’m going to combine two at a time and run them as posts here at Black Gate. Hopefully folks will find something to smile about. And maybe you’ll even become a new Wolfe fan. They’re really great books.

I’ve decided to daily update my notebook with thoughts on Stay at Home (henceforward, SaH). We’ll see which happens first: life returns to normal, or I kill Nero Wolfe in his office.

DAY ONE – 2020 Stay at Home

I don’t think Wolfe even noticed that SaH has begun. Newspaper and mail delivery continued, so his morning routine was unchanged. While special deliveries of some ingredients that Fritz uses to do his magic are going to impact the variety of offerings, the larder is loaded, as it were. The groceries and markets are still open, so Fritz will be able to resupply for at least a while. I may go with him to get supplies as a way to not be stuck here in the brownstone.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: The ‘Lost’ 1959 Pilot

Monday, March 30th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Only a few years ago, the ‘lost’ pilot of a 1959 Nero Wolfe television show came out on DVD. Surprisingly, no one posted it on YouTube until March of 2020, while much of America was staying at home during the Corona virus Pandemic. I myself saw it for the first time on March 22, so here we go!

Back in 1959, Edward Fadiman, part of Fadmian Productions, (which also acted for Rex Stout as ‘Nero Wolfe Attractions’), got a pilot episode made through CBS. Unfortunately, it was fated to be a one-episode series (or was it?). TV was still an emerging medium, competing with radio, the silver screen, and the stage. It’s no surprise that the project turned to Broadway for the dual leads. And in this episode, Archie’s star shines at least as brightly as Wolfe’s.

Kurt Kasznar appeared in one episode of a lot of TV shows, which was common in the fifties and sixties. He was a successful stage actor, including roles in The Sound of Music, and Barefoot in the Park. When notices about the pilot project began appearing in early 1959, he was appearing in Look After Lulu. At 280 pounds, he had the build for Wolfe. The press reported that he actually had lost 70 pounds and needed padding for the part! William Shatner was appearing on Broadway in The World of Suzi Wong. He was years away from boldly going where no man had gone before.

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Creating, or Not, in New Territory

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

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It all feels a bit weird, doesn’t it?

Good morning, readers!

I am writing to you from isolation. Well, I say isolation. I share this house with a flatmate and two cats, so I’m not really all that isolated. I am, however, not at work. It seems my office has finally decided to start taking this pandemic seriously, and has requested that I stay home this week. I’m glad they’re at last taking it seriously. I am also fortunate, because I get to keep my job (thus far), and don’t have to worry too much about my next meal. I also live in Canada, where there is a promised safety net if I do happen to lose my job. It’s not as comprehensive as I would like (I rent ’cause I can’t afford a house, so the mortgage freeze doesn’t apply to me), it’s still a damned sight better than many other places. I’m extremely fortunate.

In fact, all I have to do is make a minor adjustment to my daily life.

Yet, I find that minor adjustment has translated into some pretty major issues. Creation has become all but impossible, or it was last week. Here are some steps I’m taking to combat the anxiety-induced malaise that has overcome me since this pandemic got started. I’m sharing them here just in case someone else is similarly struggling. Perhaps this might help those folks get back on track, with a fairly large caveat.

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Rogue Blades author: Robert E. Howard, Conan and Me

Friday, March 20th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Howard changed my lifeBelow is an excerpt from author John C. Hocking’s essay for the upcoming book, Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, from publisher Rogue Blades Foundation.

I was a precocious reader.  By the time I was seven years old, guided by the taste of my father, I was reading Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, E.R. Burroughs, E.E. Smith, and Lester Dent’s Doc Savage stories.  Around this time my father, an art and history teacher, a martial artist and collector of swords, became a little frustrated that my mother was less than keen to accompany him to see a new, supposedly pretty hardboiled, Western movie called A Fistful of Dollars, so he took me.

In addition to thrusting upon my youthful eyes an unimagined example of cinematic style, the film presented a powerful vision of a highly qualified good and a frighteningly believable evil in stark conflict beyond anything I’d encountered before.  Every aspect of the movie resonated with me, but the depiction of fearsome, believably dangerous villains being faced down by a hero who was actually dangerous enough to confront and destroy them instantly made most of the reading, TV and movies I’d known seem somehow inadequate, even false.

Then, in the summer of 1967, my Dad brought me a copy of Lancer’s Conan the Adventurer.  The Frazetta cover promised much, but I read the first story in that collection, Robert E. Howard’s “The People of the Black Circle,” on a quiet sunny morning and it blew my little mind.

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Tabletop Looting in Riot Quest

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

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The current storyline in Privateer Press’ Iron Kingdoms setting is leading toward the apocalypse, as otherworldly Infernals swarm across the nations of Immoren. Characters familiar from the Warmachine/Hordes game setting will (and already have) died, but others may escape Immoren to become the progenitors of the upcoming Warcaster science fantasy wargame (with 3 days left on its Kickstarter).

But what of those who survive, left behind on the Immoren after the Infernals have harvested souls, and broken the nations that make up the Iron Kingdoms? When the swan of Cygnar has fallen, and even the undead cannot remain safe within the land of Cryx? Well, at that point … might as well start some looting.

That is the theme of Riot Quest, released at GenCon 2019. It is a miniature arena game, where players field teams of models to go up against each other to collect treasure and cool equipment. As your team appears on the field, randomly located near one of 6 spawn gates, players try to make it to treasure chests located at randomly-determined treasure points. Once a treasure is obtained, another treasure spawns, and the race is on again. As you gain treasure, and defeat opponents, you gain loot tokens that can be used to buy special Riot Gear cards to boost your characters’ abilities.

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“Authenticity” in Sword & Sorcery Fiction

Thursday, March 12th, 2020 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

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Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

These days, in intersection with my Conan gaming (I enjoy both Monolith’s board game and Modiphius’s roleplaying game), I have been reading a lot of two things: weird fiction from the turn of last century into, maybe, the 1940s; and sword & sorcery — anything that, on its cover, features a muscled male wielding medieval weaponry — predominantly from the ‘70s or ‘80s. (This latter does the double duty of encouraging me to work out.)

As is to be expected, these works offer various levels of quality. Early-last-century weird fiction is in a class of its own, and, though writers of that era freely borrowed tropes, themes and elements from each other (they very much appear to have been in conversation, literally or otherwise), the form of the weird tale is not as calcified as that of sword & sorcery appears to be by the ‘80s. Even within this latter’s straitjacket, however, I have encountered some standouts, including John Dalmas’s The Orc Wars (beginning with The Yngling, 1971), Gordon Dickson’s and Roland Green’s Jamie the Red (an unofficial Thieves’ World novel, 1984), and John Maddox Robert’s The King of the Wood (1983). Why I like these is for the reasons that one would like any work of fiction, of course, but with one addition: they present a sense of verisimilitude. I should add here, for anyone who might not be privy to how sword & sorcery is supposed to be subdivided from its parent genre of fantasy, that sword & sorcery is supposed to be more “realistic.” The world presented in such tales is premodern. Life is hard. The cultures do not have our present technology (nor magic — magic, in this subgenre, if not “low,” is rare and mysterious and terrifying and usually very, very “wrong”) with which to ease the drudgery of existence. In other words, the characters in such stories live in the way that folks in the Middle Ages lived, possibly in the way that many of our grandparents or great-grandparents lived, if they were homesteading somewhere.

This is why I no longer write sword & sorcery. I am a city boy. I am modern. I have no idea what “real life” is like. And yet I somehow have enough of one to know — intuitively or otherwise — when a writer knows even less than I do. To catalog the many errors of some of our most famous current fantasy writers is outside of the scope of these observations, but I’ll point to the occasion that spurred me finally to write on this topic here.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes On Screen – All of ‘Em!

Monday, March 9th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Sherlock Holmes dang itI started out with  a Holmes on Screen website many years ago, about the great detective’s appearances in film and on tv. Later, I added stage performances.  Eventually I took it down and moved on to Solar Pons, but I never lost my interest in the subject matter, and over the years, I’ve written over two dozen posts about Holmes on small and big screen. So, I figured I’d put up one post with links to all of them. I go all the way back to 1900’s Sherlock Holmes Baffled, right up to BBC Sherlock and Elementary. I happen to think there’s some pretty neat stuff mixed in here. Pick a topic and do a little reading!

1900-1920 Holmes’ Before Eille Norwood
1914 James Bragington – A Study in Scarlet
1916 William Gillette – Sherlock Holmes
1921-1923 Eille Norwood – Stoll Pictures
1922 John Barrymore – Sherlock Holmes
1931 Raymond Massey – The Speckled Band
1931-1937 Arthur Wontner – Five Films
1933 Reginald Owens – A Study in Scarlet
1939 – 1946  Basil Rathbone – The Secret Weapon  & The Scarlet Claw
1949/1951  Alan Napier & Alan Wheatley – Alans on TV
1954 -1955 Ronald Howard – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes & The First Episodes

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Privateer Press’ Warcaster on Kickstarter

Saturday, March 7th, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

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I recently covered some of the new storyline that is coming out for the main product line of Privateer Press, the Iron Kingdoms fantasy setting that is used for their Warmachine and Hordes miniature war games. Part of the impact of that storyline (unrolling through microfiction at the @HengeHoldScroll Twitter feed) is that some denizens from the Iron Kingdoms are escaping, guided by the clockwork god Cyriss, through a portal into another universe.

Fast forward five thousand years, and the Cyriss universe is populated by humans, who have gained dominance over the native Architect and Guardians of the Cyriss galaxy. The overwhelming governmental and military power in the universe is the draconian Iron Star Alliance, who constantly finds themselves in conflict with the independent Marcher Worlds and the shadowy cult-dominated Aeternus Continuum, through a new miniature science fantasy wargame, Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika, now available on Kickstarter and fully backed within just a few hours.

Warmachine has warcasters, as the main leader model in an army, who commands the giant mechanized warjacks, and channels magical focus to empower them. One major difference in Warcaster is that the warcaster isn’t a model on a table, but a distant commander, jacked into a command ship (called a rack) in orbit over the battle. You, in other words, are the warcaster, and you can wield the power of Arcanessence, or Arc, to empower not only the warjacks on the battlefield, but any of the units under your command, through their augmented neo-mechanika armor and weapons.

In other words, in Warcaster you can’t obtain victory by killing one uniquely-important model on the battlefield. And that isn’t the only difference …

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