A (Black) Gat in the Hand: It’s a Hardboiled May on TCM

Monday, May 11th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

EdwardRobinsonSo, Edward G. Robinson is the May Star of the Month on TCM. Every Thursday there is a batch of Robinson movies, as well as some other movies featuring hardboiled stars, like Humphrey Bogart. Things kicked off May 7th with eight Robinson flicks, including two excellent Bogie movies, Key Largo, and Bullets or Ballots. But the past is prologue.

Let’s take a look at some of the films coming up this month, all EST. A note: any movie shown on TCM, which they don’t sell the DVD for, can be viewed on WatchTCM for a week after it airs. So, for example, Bullets or Ballots can be seen right now, but Key Largo can’t.

May 14th

8:15 AM – All Through the Night

This is one of my Top Ten Bogart films – might even be Top Five. Bogart is Gloves Donahue, a NYC gangster. It opened up in January of 1942, in the early stages of the war. Hollywood was shifting from making gangster movies to war films, and this is both! Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser in Casablanca) leads a Nazi spy ring that runs afoul of Bogart’s gang. It’s a comedy-gangster-spy movie, and I think it’s a great watch. There’s a superb supporting cast, including Peter Lorre, William Demarest, Frank McHugh, Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, and Barton MacLane! I highly recommend this one.

In Casablanca, when Rick is advising Major Strasser about invading certain parts of New York, that’s an in-joke back to this movie.

4:15 PM – The Return of Doctor X

This is a bad, science fiction/horror movie. It’s a little campy; but mostly just bad. I’ll let Bogie tell you himself how bad it was:

“This is one of those pictures that made me march in to (Warner Brothers boss Jack L. Warner) and ask for more money again. You can’t believe what this one was like. I had a part that somebody like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff should have played. I was this doctor, brought back to life, and the only thing that nourished this poor bastard was blood. If it’d been Jack Warner’s or Harry (Warner’s) blood, I wouldn’t have minded as much. The trouble was, they were drinking mine and I was making this stinking movie.”

That’s from an essay I wrote about it here at Black Gate. Watch the movie, read my essay. You’ll thank me later.

9:45 PM – A Slight Case of Murder

I’m not crazy about Robinson’s gangster comedies, of which this is one. A gangster goes straight. Much hilarity ensues. Sort of. It does have the always reliable Alan Jenkins, who appeared in lots of Warners crime films.

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Neverwhens: Where History and Fantasy (Careers) Collide — an Interview with Christian (and Miles) Cameron

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 | Posted by Greg Mele

C Cameron as Hoplite -- Alternate-small

Christian Cameron as a Hoplite

Christian Cameron, a well-known historical fiction author who writes espionage novels under the pen name Gordon Kent and fantasy under Miles Cameron, is a Canadian novelist who was educated and trained as both an historian and a former career officer in the US Navy. His best-known work is the ongoing historical fiction series Tyrant, set in Classical Greece, which by 2009 had sold over 100,000 copies. But in recent years he’s not only chronicled ancient Greece, but 14th-century European history — military, chivalric, and literary — in England, France, Italy, and Greece and roughly in parallel with the career of Chaucer’s knight (the Chivalry series). And, as Miles Cameron, he also writes fantasy with the Traitor Son tetralogy and Masters & Mages trilogy.

Cameron is a passionate reenactor, and uses the experiences of reenacting, including knowledge of the material culture and the skill sets required to recreate any portion of life in the past as essential tools in writing his novels. Cameron helps organize and direct military and non-military reenactments in the United States, Canada, and Europe. In addition to recreating the life of an early 5th-century BCE Plataean Hoplite, Cameron also runs a group dedicated to the role of rangers and Native Americans in the American Revolution, and participates in tournaments as a knight of the late 14th century. One such tournament is the Deed of Alms, an annual HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) charity tournament hosted in Toronto to combat homelessness.

GDM: So you’ve had a long and very successful run as an historical fiction writer before adding fantasy to your repertoire. Which genre was your first love?

CC: Fantasy all the way.  Except Dumas’ Three Musketeers, which is to me the greatest adventure novel ever written. I had a friend who was seriously in to ‘Old School’ fantasy; Lord Dunsany, Tolkien, E.R. Eddison, Robert E Howard… etc.  Amazing stuff.

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The Stories We Tell: Bias in Research and Its Effects on Fiction

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

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Hadrian’s Wall, from the ruins of a Milecastle. Image from publicdomainpictures.net.

Good morning, Readers!

Last week, I was watching a lecture on Hadrian’s Wall, as you do, hoping to learn something new about the situation in Britain during the Roman occupation. I did not, incidentally, learn anything I had not already known (if money was no object, I would have a doctorate in archaeology, specializing in the British Isles, and probably a few extra degrees in archaeogenetics and archaeolinguistics. I am fascinated by these things). The lecture did, however, serve as a stark reminder of the frustrating presence of bias that permeates even intellectual pursuits. This lecture, in particular, veered hard towards a Roman bias, something that has been so prevalent in the field I am so interested in, that I’ve often shut books and thrown journals across the room.

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Heroika II: Skirmishers – Heroism on the History: Fantasy Battlefront

Sunday, May 3rd, 2020 | Posted by SELindberg

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The Heroika anthology series is created by author and editor Janet Morris (known for her Heroes in HellSacred Band of Stepsons, Kerrion Empire, and Silistra Quartet series). The first volume Heroika I: Dragon Eaters featured seventeen stories from across the globe, from ancient to modern times arranged chronologically. Black Gate reviewer Fletcher Vredenburgh reported:

Too many anthologies pick a tone and then it doesn’t vary from story to story. Heroika avoids that. Connected by the themes of heroism and dragon-fighting, it allows room for varying styles of mythic tales and heroic fantasy as well as all-out pulp craziness.

Heroika II: Skirmishers follows suit, this time with twelve heroic tales spanning ancient history to modern times, arranged chronologically again.

Most authors have a historical fiction bent, so Skirmishers really is 50% historical fiction and 50% fantasy. Brief forwards provide context to each story. This post offers a brochure-like tour guide of these battlegrounds.

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Rogue Blades Presents: What Would Your Hero Say to You?

Friday, May 1st, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

weird talesWhen I started out as a writer of fiction in the late 1980s, one of my favorite magazines was Weird Tales. Over the next decade or so, I submitted a half dozen stories to Weird Tales, none of which were ever accepted for publication. Still, even though none of my tales ever landed there, I learned a lot from the letters I received from one of the editors, George H. Scithers.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Mr. Scithers. If not, surely you’ve heard of some of his work. He was the first editor for Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, for which he won two Hugo awards. He was also editor at Amazing Stories, and of numerous anthologies. At Weird Tales, he won a World Fantasy Award along with Darrell Schweitzer. He was known among writers and readers and editors.

Unfortunately we lost Mr. Scithers a decade ago, but his legacy lives on in the work he produced and in fandom. Many of today’s readers probably don’t even realize how much they owe to this gentleman.

And “gentleman” is not a word I use lightly. I never knew Mr. Scithers personally. He and I never met. I can’t speak to his everyday attitudes and demeanor. Yet he was always kind and supportive in the reply letters he wrote back to me as a budding writer. He always had good things to say while not being afraid to point out where I needed to polish. He could be critical without being overbearing and negative, a trait that seems lost in today’s world. Also, I’ve met with or had correspondence with other people who actually did know or had at least met Mr. Scithers, and every single one of those individuals has had good things to say about George. So I feel my calling him a “gentleman” is most apt, especially as every correspondence I had with him was most friendly and congenial.

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Brazzaville — The Sequel to Casablanca That Was Never Made

Monday, April 27th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

CasablancaPoster1Now, I think that Casablanca is the greatest movie ever. I’ve seen it far more times than any other movie, and I rarely pass up a chance to sit down and watch it again when TCM runs it. I had never seen a Humphrey Bogart movie until my early twenties. Then, I went to the Ohio Theater, an amazing place on the National  Register of Historic Places, to see Casablanca on a HUGE screen. There was even organ music during the intermission. I was hooked for life and I now own almost every movie Bogart appeared in. I’m a virtual Cliff Claven of Casablanca trivia, and I’ve even written two short stories centered around the movie.

Frederick Stephani was a screenwriter who had penned the first Flash Gordon movie that Buster Crabbe starred in. He also did the screenplay for Johnny Holiday, a hardboiled movie starring William Bendix. After the success of Casablanca, Warners had him write a treatment for a sequel, working title Brazzaville – after the Free French garrison that Renault suggests he and Rick visit as they walk away from the airport at the close of the film.

BRAZZAVILLE – CASABLANCA SEQUEL

Rick and Renault drive to Rick’s Cafe to find some unhappy Germans waiting for them. The Germans demand that Renault either arrest Rick, or turn him over to them. Rick says he’d rather be arrested. I can see Bogart wryly saying that. Renault smiles and looks at his watch; it’s 6:00.

He asks his aide, presumably Lt. Casselle, how long it takes to get a cable to, and a response from, Vichy. He is told, ‘six hours.’ He asks the Germans what charge is to be made against Rick. That’s reminiscent of him telling Strasser he has no reason to shut down the cafe in Casablanca. The Germans tell him some trumped up charges. Unlike the incident with Strasser, he stands up to them. He explains that Casablanca is still a free territory and they need to substantiate their charges. He adds that anyone can prefer charges, but if they can’t be proven, it will cause trouble for Renault.

The Germans, knowing that Renault is with Vichy, are confident, but don’t see the wink that he gives Rick. Rick then levels some made up charges against them! Rains decides he likes Rick’s charges better and arrests the Germans. They are furious and threaten vengeance. Renault offers to let them use the cables to contact Vichy to complain (Nobody plays cool and urbane like Claude Rains). Bogart is bemused.

Later, in Rains’ office, Bogart tries to find out what Louis is up to, but Renault puts him off and tells him to concentrate on their chess games. Renault is unconcerned by his very unhappy German prisoners.

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Uncanny X-Men, Part 10: John Byrne’s The Hidden Years #1-4

Saturday, April 25th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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Holy cow! We’re into double digits of my reread of the X-Men story that began in 1963. I include a full set of links to the post series at the bottom of this post. As we saw last time, some later creators have had some fun in writing stories that fit into those empty years between 1970 and 1975 when X-Men was just a reprint title. One of the most famous is John Byrne’s 1999-2001 series X-Men: The Hidden Years. 

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Character Trends: The Gentle(r) Man

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

knight-ready-for-battle

I’ve always liked this image. I got this from 1001freedownloads.com.

Good morning, Readers!

First, let me preface this by noting that I grew up in the 80s and 90s, where the concept of masculine heroism was, let’s be perfectly honest, pretty damned toxic and one-dimensional, two at most. With the the depictions of male characters from that era falling into two main tropes; the skirt-chasing misogynistic jock hero type; the hyper violent, suffers no consequence for the terrible shite they’ve experienced, whose writers conflated arrogance and misogyny for charm and charisma, or the “nice” nerd (with often the exact same shortcomings as the jock hero type), depending on the story being told, I find myself so often struck by the change I’ve seen in male characters in recent times.

Also, I am wildly aware that the above tropes were not completely universal in the 80s and 90s, but it was prevalent enough that now, when I see how male characters are written now, the difference is absolutely striking.

And I’m here for it.

There are several characters who’ve made it plain that this outdated, toxic perception of masculinity is changing, and I’d like to take the time to celebrate them. I’m drawing a lot from film and video games, as those are the mediums which often lack the time and space to explore characters as fully as they do in books.

Anyway, here I go.

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Black Gate Fiction: Everybody Comes to Rick’s (Casablanca Chronicles)

Monday, April 20th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Casblanca_CafeFrontCasablanca is my all-time favorite movie. And I few weeks ago I posted a story I wrote starring Captain Renault; set immediately after the movie ends. That was actually the second Casablanca story I wrote. Here’s the first. It is pure cheese. Some day I will go back and turn it in to a proper story. But back before I became a decent writer, I did this oust of love for the best film I have ever seen. Be kind to me (Maltese Falcon reference there).

Rick stood next to the bar, watching the floor, where a few couples were dancing to the slow tune which the orchestra was playing. He took a drag on his cigarette, glad that it was a good crowd tonight. His place always did strong business during the holidays. People wanted to get out for a nice night and forget the insignificance of their daily lives. Carl had decorated the place, putting bows on the doors, and stringing lights along some of the columns. There was even a big pine tree with various oddments hanging from it. Christmas didn’t mean much to Rick: hadn’t since he’d left Chicago.

Sam was setting up his piano near the band. His break would be over in a few minutes. Rick turned his attention to the door where a large man was just coming in. He was over three hundred pounds but carried his weight without difficulty. The man caught Rick’s eye and came towards the bar.

“Good evening, Rick. I see that you have some of my customers here tonight.”

Ferrari ran the Blue Parrot, Rick’s main competition in Casablanca. It had the feel of a local kasbah, while his own Café Americain would have been a comfortable fit in Monaco. It was the most elegant joint in town, and it had an honest gambling room in the back. There weren’t too many honest places in Casablanca. Certainly none associated with Ferrari.

“You know my motto, Ferrari – The customer is always right.”

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Horror in a Time Of Coronavirus

Thursday, April 16th, 2020 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

The Nightmare Henry Fuseli-small

The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1781

Horror is a reflection of its times.

All story-telling is: you can read the words of any time and find its birthday stamped in all its pages. Jane Austen couldn’t write a Renaissance novel, Hemingway didn’t write regency fiction, and Shakespeare couldn’t write in the sparse, bare bones prose that Hemingway did.

But horror is rather specifically tied to its own moment. When it works, it grows out of not just an individual’s fear but the atmospheric fear of an age.

Every generation of Horror has its own kind of terroir (a term from wine making that means the taste-remnants of every factor that goes into a bottle, from sun to rain to the trace minerals in the soil to the specific woods in the barrel a vintner uses). Frankenstein is stamped with Mary Shelley’s own biography (the loss of her children, her strained and strange relationship with her father and the ghost of her mother), but also a Romantic-era tension between technology and nature, Humanism and the ideas of divinity. Dracula is most obviously steeped in Edwardian era anxiety about sexuality, women’s role in society, and how rapid social changes are affecting both.

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