Category Archives: Pulp Heroes

JIREL OF JOIRY: CHAPTER LINKS

Jirel of JoiryAn alert reader reminded me that I did not remember to put up a blog post with links to all my reviews of female author C.L. Moore’s six Jirel of Joiry pulp stories from the 1930s. Here is that collection of links in one convenient blog post.

BLACK GOD’S KISS (1934) – The first story featuring Jirel of Joiry, a sword-wielding woman warrior from late Medieval France. From Castle Joiry she leads her army in frequent raids on rival domains while often battling mind-boggling supernatural menaces. Jirel really was the kind of red-haired action heroine that people think of Red Sonja as being, but Robert E Howard’s character Red Sonya (not Sonja) was from the 1520s, not the Hyborean Age, and used guns as well as swords.  

This debut tale introduces Jirel, Father Gervase and the Jason Momoa-esque Guillaume the Conqueror. Our heroine enters a vile netherworld to secure a supernatural weapon. Click HERE. Continue reading

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MONDO MIKE HAMMER MOVIES

i the jury novel 1947Mickey Spillane’s hard-boiled private “detective” Mike Hammer first appeared in the writer’s debut novel I, The Jury in 1947. Spillane filled the Hammer stories with scandalous – for the time period – violence and sex. Critics frowned on the hundreds of millions in book sales that followed but readers continue to make the many Mike Hammer novels a success to this very day. 

The Mike Hammer movies, on the other hand, have always been a very mixed bunch of projects. The expression “from the ridiculous to the sublime” has never been more fitting than it is for those films, from the 1950s onward, from the U.S. to Japan. Here are some standouts, in no particular order.  

brian keith as mike hammerMICKEY SPILLANE’S MIKE HAMMER (1954) – This was a failed pilot for what would have been the first Mike Hammer television series. Brian Keith starred as the title dick (as it were) while Blake Edwards wrote and directed, years before his Peter Gunn series.

In my opinion, trying to do Mike Hammer on television was as bad an idea as Spillane’s own novels which set the P.I. in any decade later than the 1950s. This 1954 effort is an exception to my tv rule because it was deemed TOO VIOLENT FOR TELEVISION and was never aired!

Now that’s more like it! The raw violence and lurid sex of Spillane’s novels were what made Mike Hammer stand out. Anything less than Quentin Tarantino levels of sex and violence has been what doomed most Hammer productions on the big screen, let alone the small.

Spillane didn’t exactly concoct ground-breaking mysteries, so the adult elements were what fueled sales of his novels. Stripped of those elements, any story is just a pale imitation of Mike Hammer. As much as I like Darren McGavin, his 1958-1960 Mike Hammer series is way too tame and plays like any other bland detective series of the era. 

Brian Keith is great as the title character in this pilot and I’d love to see how he’d have done in a cinematic depiction of Spillane’s hero. Robert Bice is adequate in the thankless role of police captain Pat Chambers, but the absence of Hammer’s secretary Velda is a serious blow to the production.

Typical of so many Mike Hammer stories, there’s no client. The misanthrope is filled with personal rage and decides to take down a gangster when he sees the man’s gunsels kill a paper boy as collateral damage when they mow down a potential mob witness.

most terrible time in my lifeTHE MOST TERRIBLE TIME IN MY LIFE (1993 in Japan, 1994 in the U.S.) – Masatoshi Nagase IS Maiku Hama, the Japanese rendering of the name Mike Hammer. This unusual film, directed and co-written by Kaizo Hayashi, is in black & white for all but the final 20 minutes. 

The Most Terrible Time in My Life starts out so slavishly derivative of Mickey Spillane, Film Noir and Seijun Suzuki that a viewer finds themselves wondering if this is supposed to be a comedy, but it’s not. Hama comes to the aid of a Taiwanese waiter living in Yokohama, Japan. The waiter wants Maiku to find his missing brother, which investigation leads Hama to over the top violence, the Yakuza, gangster warfare and a secret vendetta between the Taiwanese brothers.

Our title detective gets a finger cut off and reattached at one point in the midst of the routine severe beatings that Mike Hammer usually suffers. Some of the beatings come from his old, revered detective sensei, Jo Shishido, the “cheeky” Japanese star of gritty crime cinema. (He’s sort of the Eddie Constantine of Japan, so his appearance as Hama’s mentor is an iconic moment.) Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: STORY SIX

Balladeer’s Blog concludes its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.

jirel in armorHELLSGARDE (1939) – Sadly, this is the last of C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry adventures, but the character gets to go out on a high note. The handsome but treacherous Guy of Garlot ambushes twenty of Jirel’s soldiers and imprisons them in the dungeons of Castle Garlot.

Guy demands ransom, so Joiry meets with him to negotiate since Castle Garlot is impregnable to assault and sieges as it sits atop a high, steep mountain with underground springs supplying it with endless water. The only payment Guy will accept to free Jirel’s men unharmed is the treasure from the remote and damned castle of Hellsgarde. Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: STORY FIVE

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.

jirel picQUEST OF THE STAR STONE (1937) – It’s crossover time! C.L. Moore decided to do a story in which her two most famous pulp creations – Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry – meet each other. Trouble is Jirel’s adventures take place in Medieval times while Northwest Smith’s stories are set around 2500 A.D. Any reader of pulp fiction knows that’s no real obstacle so let’s dive in.

The story opens in Jirel’s time. She is leading her obedient soldiers in an assault on the castle of a sorceror named Franga. Our sword-wielding heroine battles her way through to Franga’s chamber where she seizes a mystic gem called the Star Stone. That jewel is so powerful but so unfathomable that even Franga was still trying to discover how to harness its arcane energies.

Jirel defeats Franga and forces him to flee between dimensions, but as he leaves he promises Jirel that he’ll return to get revenge on her and get the Star Stone back – just as soon as he finds a champion capable of matching Jirel’s courage, cunning and force of will. “No matter what world or what time I find them in” he adds, letting the reader know what’s coming up.  Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: STORY FOUR

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.

jirel of joiry on horsebackTHE DARK LAND (1936) – In her tower bedroom at Castle Joiry, Jirel lies in bed, mortally wounded while leading her men at the Battlefield of Sorrow. A pike wound in her side has grown infected and the weak, delirious warrior woman is surrounded by her chambermaids, all of them weeping over their lady’s condition.

Father Gervase, whom we met back in the first Joiry story, arrives to cleanse Jirel of her sins as part of her Last Rites. He and the chambermaids are shocked to see that Jirel of Joiry’s body has disappeared from her death bed.

The priest and the maids are overcome with fear that the mistress of Castle Joiry may have been taken away body and soul by Satan. Father Gervase whispers his suspicion that Jirel had too often dabbled in forbidden things and defied too many unearthly powers during her lifetime and had finally paid the price. Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: STORY THREE

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.

jirel meets magicJIREL MEETS MAGIC (1935) – First off, let me say that is a bizarrely bland and unfitting title for this wildly imaginative tale. It also ignores the supernatural elements of Jirel’s first two adventures by implying this is the first time she “meets” magic.

The story opens up with Jirel on horseback leading her army in a bloody assault on Castle Guischard, the stronghold of the sorcerer Giraud. When our heroine leads the way into the castle itself, even her bravest men are a bit intimidated by the dark history of the place, but charge in along with her.

jirel on hillWhen the last of Giraud’s men are slain and all secret passageways from Castle Guischard are covered, Jirel and her men scour the entire castle for any sign of the sorcerer, whom she has sworn to kill over his double-dealing with her.

At last, in a high tower of the castle, Jirel finds what must have been Giraud’s hiding place and sees how he apparently fled.

Behind plush curtains is a window with impossibly large ivory shutters. Once opened, those shutters reveal that the window leads not to the outside, but to another dimension in which Giraud has sought shelter.
Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: STORY TWO

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.

black god's shadowBLACK GOD’S SHADOW (1934) – This was Moore’s sequel to Jirel’s debut story Black God’s Kiss. We pick up an unknown amount of time after the conclusion of the previous tale. Jirel has been having recurring nightmares and visions ever since she killed Guillaume the Conqueror, the man she belatedly realized that she loved.

Of late the nightmares and visions have been intensifying to the point where our heroine is becoming convinced that Guillaume’s soul must be trapped in the hellish netherworld where she herself acquired the weapon she used to kill him. Castle Joiry was immediately evacuated by Guillaume’s troops in their panicked, superstitious reaction to the supernatural death of their leader.

jirel of joiryOrder had since been restored in the castle but Jirel’s sleep has not been the same. As she lies tossing and turning, she ponders the various lovers she had taken over the years, none of whom took the hold over her heart and thoughts that Guillaume did.

Determined, she armors up, takes a sword and knife with her and sets out to somehow free Guillaume’s soul by daring to reenter the hellish domain that lies far beneath Castle Joiry. Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: NEGLECTED PULP HEROINE

Jirel of JoiryJIREL OF JOIRY – From 1934 to 1939, the female author C.L. Moore wrote six stories featuring Jirel of Joiry, a sword-wielding woman warrior from late Medieval France. Moore’s thirteen tales of Northwest Smith, the 1930s version of Han Solo, were reviewed in 2014 here at Balladeer’s Blog, including the 1937 crossover story with Jirel in which they faced a time-traveling sorceror from her era.

With this blog post I’m at last beginning my promised examination of the Jirel of Joiry pulp stories from the iconic publication Weird Tales. She was the forerunner of so many recent heroines from Xena to Cara Dune. 

black god's kissBLACK GOD’S KISS (1934) – This debut story opens with Castle Joiry having for once suffered the fate that Jirel had forced upon so many other strongholds: its armies defeated and their commander, Jirel herself, taken prisoner.

Still fully armored, she has been brought before Guillaume the Conqueror, the first man to have ever beaten Jirel militarily. The cocky Guillaume, having taken the castle, is seated upon Jirel’s throne as he inspects the freshly seized enemy commander being held by two of his men who can scarcely keep the warrior restrained.

Soon he has another of his soldiers remove the helmet from the commander and is shocked to see that inside the armor it is a beautiful woman who nearly defeated him that day.

jirel coverNOTE: Since so many people are still so into the Game of Thrones universe picture a fully armored Jason Momoa as Guillaume and for Jirel picture a fiery combination of Arya, Daenerys and Brienne with Sansa’s long red hair.

Back to the story, Guillaume infuriates Jirel by talking to her as the prisoner she is and she breaks free of the two men holding her and nearly escapes before Guillaume himself catches up with her and recaptures her. He forces a kiss upon Jirel, who, the minute their mouths are disengaged, bites into his exposed neck, just missing his jugular vein.

Things escalate and Guillaume smacks our heroine unconscious. She awakens that night in the dungeons far below Castle Joiry. She easily escapes from her cell and overcomes the guard Guillaume assigned to keep watch over her. Continue reading

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HUNTERWALI (1935, 1988) AND A REQUEST FOR HELP

Hunterwali in action

hunterwaliFor several years here at Balladeer’s Blog I have been trying to track down, watch and review all of the film versions of Hunterwali (Whip-wielding Woman), Bollywood Cinema’s butt-kicking masked female heroine. Often glibly dismissed as a female Zorro, there is much more cultural context to the Hunterwali figure – contextual significance that goes beyond the particular time period of each film version.

hunterwali picThus far I have been able to watch the 1935 original, which starred the actress billed as “Fearless Nadia” in India, and the 1988 Hunterwali. I have had no luck tracking down the 1959, 1972, 1977 and 2017 movie versions. Nor have I been able to buy the 1943 film, Hunterwali Ki Beti (Hunterwali’s Daughter), the very first sequel movie in Indian entertainment history.

Hunterwali upper handThe basics of the Hunterwali story involve Princess Madhuri adopting a masked, whip-wielding and stunt-riding identity to combat the many injustices inflicted on the kingdom by her father’s evil Vazier Ranamal. That villain even imprisons the king and lusts after Madhuri, little realizing she is really the swashbuckling “protector of the poor and punisher of evildoers” called Hunterwali. Continue reading

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THE OLD GODS WAKEN (1979): HALLOWEEN MONTH BEGINS

Silver John

Silver John

THE OLD GODS WAKEN (1979) – Another Halloween Month begins here at Balladeer’s Blog with this look at the first novel featuring Manly Wade Wellman’s iconic Pulp Hero Silver John. In 2011 I reviewed all of Wellman’s short stories and vignettes about this figure. The Old Gods Waken was the first of five Silver John novels.

For newcomers to these tales I’ll point out that Silver John aka John the Balladeer was a wandering guitar player in the Appalachian Mountain communities of yore. He would do battle with assorted supernatural menaces from mountain folklore like a combination of Kolchak and Orpheus. John’s silver guitar strings and silver coins were powerful repellants against much of the evils he faced down.

For more details on this neglected fictional hero click HERE or HERE or HERE. If you want an easy comparison the Silver John stories were based on the same type of mountain/ country folklore about music and the supernatural that the song The Devil Went Down To Georgia was based on.

silver john another coverThe Old Gods Waken deals with Silver John performing with other musicians at a music festival, then getting drawn into a property line dispute between the Forshay family and two sinister British men calling themselves Brummitt and Hooper Voth. As usual in our hero’s travels there are dark supernatural forces at work behind this boundary dispute – forces ultimately dealing with Pre-Columbian entities and transplanted Druidism.

I enjoy the Silver John short works far more than the novels and this book reflects plenty of reasons why. If The Old Gods Waken is a reader’s first exposure to the wandering balladeer then they might like it much better than I do based on the strength of the character and Manly Wade Wellman’s ear for old mountain dialects. As for me, I’ll explore the reasons why I think this novel embodies all the shortcomings of the (still very good) long form Silver John adventures.    Continue reading

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