Category Archives: Pulp Heroes

HAMMETT (1982)

HammettHAMMETT (1982) – Directed by Wim Wenders and produced by Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, Hammett is a criminally neglected valentine to Hard-Boiled Detective Stories and Film Noir. The flick is based on the novel by Joe Gores. 

The stories about the behind the scenes chaos and conflicts surrounding the production of this movie are legion. Pre-production work began in 1975 and by the time it was released in 1982 multiple cast and story changes had taken place and Coppola himself re-shot more than a third of the film.

In the way that Time After Time presented a whimsical “what if” adventure featuring H.G. Wells having a real time machine, Hammett serves up iconic detective novelist Dashiell Hammett getting caught up in solving a real-life mystery.

The timing is excellent, with the story being set in the late 1920s, after Hammett was no longer working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency but before he became a successful author. The tale begins with our hero – played by Frederic Forrest – typing out one of his penny-a-word Pulp stories for Black Mask Magazine, which was to detective fiction what Weird Tales was to horror and sci-fi.

hammett 2Booze and coughing fits figure prominently in the movie, as you would expect given a protagonist who was an alcoholic with tuberculosis. For the sake of convenience the story that Hammett just finished before blacking out was one featuring his character the Continental Op (as in an operative for the fictional Continental Detective Agency).  

Hammett awakens to find his most recent work being read by Jimmy Ryan (Peter Boyle), his old mentor from his Pinkerton days. Ryan jokes with “Sam” (Samuel Dashiell Hammett was his full name if you’re new to all things Hammett) that the “man with no name” in the story seems to be based on him (Ryan) and the way he operates.

Eventually Jimmy gets to the point: he saved Hammett’s life when our hero was new at detective work, and Ryan is finally calling in the debt that Sam owes him for that. The former colleague thus lures Hammett back into detective work for one last case. Continue reading

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THE HAN SOLO OF THE 1930s: NORTHWEST SMITH

Northwest Smith

Northwest Smith

With the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story in theaters now what better time for my profile of the Han Solo of the 1930s. Female author C.L. Moore wrote a series of pulp adventures about her often neglected science fiction figure Northwest Smith.

THE HERO: Space traveling anti-hero Smith was created by the female writer C.L. Moore in the 1930s. Four decades before Han Solo, Northwest Smith was a ruthless swashbuckling smuggler, thief and all-around mercenary. Smith’s less than sterling character made him a refreshing change from the usually wholesome pulp heroes of the time.

THE STORIES: Northwest Smith’s adventures take place in the far future, when regular trade exists between Earth and the native inhabitants of Mars and Venus. The other planets in the solar system have been colonized by those Big Three worlds, providing a backdrop that combines elements of westerns, seagoing adventures and colonial-era war stories.

Wielding a blaster like a six-gun and piloting his deceptively fast and maneuverable spaceship The Maid Smith and his Venusian partner Yarol roam the solar system making a living by plying various illegal trades. Though Northwest and Yarol are career criminals they often find themselves forced by circumstances into taking actions similar to those of traditional heroes. Their motive is usually their own survival rather than altruism. Continue reading

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FLASHMAN NOVELS: SIXTH PLACE

Alan Bates -better Flashman than MalcolmFor Balladeer’s Blog’s Number One Harry Flashman Novel click HERE  . For background info on George MacDonald Fraser’s infamous anti-hero Harry Paget Flashman you can also click that link.

Reaction to my list of The Top Five Harry Flashman Novels continues to come in, with readers wanting more Flashman reviews. Here’s my take on the novel which would have been in sixth place if I had done a list of my Top Six Harry Flashman Novels.

Flashman and the Mountain of Light6. FLASHMAN AND THE MOUNTAIN OF LIGHT (1990)

Time Period: The First Sikh War (1845-1846)

The Flashman Papers jump around to different periods of Harry Flashman’s life and this novel details our main character’s adventures following the events in Flashman’s Lady, published in 1977. Flashman’s Lady came in 3rd place in my rankings.

NOTE: The Mountain of Light of the novel’s title refers to the Koh-I-Noor (“Mountain of Light”) Diamond, which at the time belonged to the rulers of the Punjab in India and which features prominently in the story.  

Synopsis: Queen Victoria’s least trustworthy Cavalry Officer, Harry Paget Flashman, is once again in the thick of things. A series of false starts to an all-out war have set things dangerously on edge in the Punjab, with a potential bloodbath in the offing if one false move is made.

Flashman and the Mountain of Light 2Harry being Harry, he STILL manages to find time for a brief fling with the wife of a fellow British Officer before getting thrust into the line of fire. And into the schemes and political machinations of the real-life Maharani Jeendan, her brother Jawaheer, the British East India Company and a fanatical military sect called the Khalsa.

At the center of this tangled web, lurking like a thing alive, is the Koh-I-Noor Diamond, the Mountain of Light itself, passing from hand to hand – and in some cases navel to navel – while being coveted by nearly every figure in our story. Figures which include two American mercenaries who partially inspired Kipling’s tale of The Man Who Would Be King.   

The title and savage action of this Flashman novel certainly put one in mind of H. Rider Haggard’s writings but the story’s account of hedonism and political intrigues at the Punjab royal court in Lahore is more along the lines of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius.

The deliciously decadent Maharani Jeendan is our protagonist’s main bedmate in his latest sword and sex adventure, followed closely by Mangla, the Maharani’s beautiful, calculating slave who had – as history confirms – engineered events to secretly become one of the wealthiest women of the Punjab despite her condition of servitude.     Continue reading

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REMEMBERING THE MOON MAN

The Moon Man

The Moon Man

THE MOON MAN – Created by Frederick C Davis, the Moon Man is, to me, the epitome of the campy but fascinating heroes the old 1930s pulp publications used to treat readers to, issue after issue. Operating in fictional Great City, the Moon Man not only waged war on the ruthless representatives of the criminal element, he also plundered their ill-gotten wealth from them and distributed it to the Great Depression-ravaged poor of the 1930s.

This not only made the hero a combination of the best elements of the Shadow and Robin Hood, but it also gave him a healthy dose of “Green Hornet appeal”, too, because, like the Hornet, the Moon Man was hunted by both the crooks AND the cops, doubling the danger for the  daring and resourceful figure every time he donned his costume and stalked the night-darkened streets.

That costume, by the way, is beloved by some fans for its hammy, campy, “pulpish” quality, but is just barely tolerated by others for the same reason. The Moon Man was armed with an automatic and dressed all in black, usually including a black cloak, and hid his face behind a round glass globe that covered his entire head.

The globe was made of one-way Argus glass, the glass Speakeasies used to use for their windows during Prohibition, so the customers inside could see anyone approaching the illegal boozery but cops approaching it would see only their reflection in the glass. Similarly the Moon Man could see out of the globe but people looking at him would see just the mirrored surface of the globe. The globe-headed aspect of the Moon Man’s outfit often annoys people who take pulps a little too seriously, but to me it adds to the old-fashioned fun. Continue reading

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TOP FIVE FLASHMAN NOVELS: NUMBER FIVE

For Balladeer’s Blog’s Number One Harry Flashman Novel click HERE  . For background info on George MacDonald Fraser’s infamous anti-hero Harry Paget Flashman you can also click that link.

Flashman on the March5. FLASHMAN ON THE MARCH (2005)

Time Period: The 1867-1868 Abyssinian military campaign and rescue mission.

This volume of The Flashman Papers is set right after Harry’s unsuccessful attempt to spirit away Mexico’s overthrown Emperor Maximilian before he could be executed. (Well it wasn’t Flashman’s fault. As history tells us, Maximilian DID refuse to escape with the conspirators who busted in to save his sorry butt.)

Synopsis: After a passionate farewell kiss from (the real-life) Princess Agnes Salm-Salm, Harry Flashman further raises the ire of his Austrian escorts by seducing a young, blonde and buxom Hapsburg aristocrat on the trans-Atlantic voyage with Maximilian’s coffin.

In Trieste, with the Austrians planning to unleash their wrath on Flashman as soon as the ceremony for Maximilian is over, our main character bolts for the British consulate. HMG is happy to have Sir Harry on hand and entrusts him to escort the notorious 100,000 Maria Theresa Thalers being sent to finance General Robert Napier’s upcoming Abyssinian Expedition.   

Flashman on the March 2That expedition is being launched to free British captives being held and tortured by the (historically) unhinged Emperor Theodore II of Abyssinia (Called Ethiopia today). 

Before Colonel Flashman knows it he’s caught up in a clash with Muslim slavers on the Red Sea, then breezing right along to the Eritrean port of Zula, embarkation point for the British campaign into Abyssinia.  

The author George MacDonald Fraser’s descriptive talents were in top form in Flashman on the March. As fans well know, Fraser creates scenes in the reader’s mind that surpass the biggest-budgeted cinematic blockbusters.

This particular tale lets him fully unleash his genius for seeming to take his audience to faraway planets while never leaving the Earth. Abyssinia/ Ethiopia feels menacingly alien and its hostile terrain might as well be on an orbiting asteroid as we get dragged into deadly danger with the reluctant Flashman.   

Harry and his Royal Marine escorts eventually catch up with General Napier far inland, and even though our protagonist officially turns over the shipment of Thalers he is still at Napier’s mercy in terms of papers and transit orders home to England. 

With the British forces – complete with 44 war elephants from India – moving more slowly than anticipated, Napier decides to send Flashman on ahead of the main army.

Harry’s orders: a) to rescue the hostages by any means necessary if the opportunity presents itself, if not, then b) to covertly keep tabs on the location of the hostages in case the Emperor decides to take them even further inland and c) to feel out Theodore’s many enemies in the war-torn country and try to recruit ad hoc allies to prevent the Emperor’s army from escaping.   

Kevin Kline good FlashmanFlashman’s guide, translator and fellow warrior will be the beautiful Ethiopian woman Uliba-Wark, half-sister to the country’s Queen. Uliba-Wark has a small domain of her own and is up to her neck in Abyssinia’s countless political and sexual intrigues & rivalries.

A running battle on horseback which leaves Harry and the warlike beauty as the sole survivors enroute to her castle is just a hint of the wild bed and battle action that lays ahead.   Continue reading

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TOP FIVE FLASHMAN NOVELS: NUMBER FOUR

For Balladeer’s Blog’s Number One Harry Flashman Novel click HERE  For background info on George MacDonald Fraser’s infamous anti-hero Harry Paget Flashman you can also click that link.

Flashman and the Dragon4. FLASHMAN AND THE DRAGON (1985)

Time Period: Anglo-French Military Expedition to Peking – 1860

This volume from Flashman’s memoirs is set in China immediately after his adventures in the Second Opium War. Unfortunately those adventures are among the Flashman Papers that we’ll never get to peruse, since George MacDonald Fraser didn’t get a chance to cover them before his death in 2008.

Even if his estate allows other authors to complete the various Flashman stories that were alluded to but never completed in Fraser’s lifetime it just won’t be the same.

Note: The “dragon” of the title refers to the general Victorian Age label for China in its exotic, mysterious entirety. 

Synopsis: With the Second Opium War over, Harry Flashman is killing time as he awaits the ship that will take him home to England. A curvy, sultry blonde Missionary named Phoebe Carpenter uses her feminine charms to manipulate the ever-lustful Harry into running a shipload of opium to Hong Kong.

Flashman and the Dragon 2Or at least that’s what she TELLS him is being smuggled. It turns out instead to be an arms shipment for the Taipingi rebels who have split China into a blood-soaked Civil War for the past decade. Flashman doesn’t realize the true nature of the contraband he’s transporting until he’s forced to fight off a band of Macao pirates.

Thanks to some help from a sexy Chinese woman acting as a British agent our protagonist triumphs in the pirate attack. Unfortunately, when the British authorities subsequently board the vessel Harry is facing big trouble. For transporting weapons to belligerents in a war HMG has stayed out of he could be liable for years in prison or turned over to the Chinese for punishment if the Qing Dynasty insists.    Continue reading

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TOP FIVE FLASHMAN NOVELS: NUMBER THREE

For Balladeer’s Blog’s Number One Harry Flashman Novel click HERE 

For background info on George MacDonald Fraser’s infamous anti-hero Harry Paget Flashman you can also click the above link.

Flashman's Lady3. FLASHMAN’S LADY (1977)

Time Period: 1842-1845

The Flashman Papers jump around to various periods in Ol’ Flash Harry’s life. This particular novel covers our scurvy protagonist’s bed and battle adventures following his triumphant return from the First Afghan War all the way up to his pivotal role in a neglected Anglo-French action.

Along the way he clashes with London gangsters, battles Borneo Pirates and becomes a sex-slave/ military aide to an infamous African Queen. 

Favorite Book Blurb: “Harry Flashman, that swashbuckling gremlin in the works of 19th Century history, is back in an around-the- world adventure that would turn Queen Victoria pale with shock and James Bond green with envy!”

NOTE: This novel is called Flashman’s Lady not just because of his beautiful blonde wife Elspeth’s larger than usual role but because excerpts from her diary complement Flashman’s memoirs in this tale. As all Flashman fans know, Elspeth cheats on Harry just as much as he cheats on her but his ego inevitably prompts him to half-believe the outrageous excuses she uses to cover her affairs. She outdoes herself in this story.  

Flashman's Lady 2Synopsis: As the story begins Harry Flashman is still enjoying War Hero status and converting that fame into easier access to the bedrooms of various ladies. Presently the scoundrel finds himself pressed into playing on a Cricket team with some of his former classmates from Rugby School in Warwickshire.

Everyone tactfully avoids mentioning Flashman’s expulsion for drunken misconduct years earlier and he agrees. Always as physically strong as he is morally weak, Harry shines as his team’s Bowler (Pitcher for us Yanks) and leads them to victory. 

That kicks off a successful run for Flashman playing Bowler in a series of those quasi-official, no-American-who-has-ever-lived-can-understand Cricket matches like you find in Raffles stories. Harry being Harry he also begins making side money shaving points and throwing games in league with some London gangsters. Continue reading

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