THE MATARESE CIRCLE (1979)
TIME PERIOD: Late 1970s with investigations into events from before World War One and later.
To me this lengthy, epic espionage novel from Robert Ludlum was his finest work, partly because it nicely encapsulated how – over the course of the 20th Century – the world gradually found itself at the mercy of elaborate “intelligence communities” (LMAO) working in conjunction with international corporate fascists.
There’s something almost poetic about the way that – with the hindsight we have now – the bitter enmity between the novel’s central characters (one a U.S. agent and the other a Soviet agent) is washed away a mere decade before the real-world collapse of the Cold War paradigm.
And with that same hindsight it’s almost eerie how those two rivals come to realize that the real seeds of future totalitarianism lie in the New Feudalism’s ugly motto: Nations are obsolete, so wealth wedded to unchecked political power is the coming thing. Ludlum’s arch-villain Guillaume de Matarese was positively prescient.
LEAD HERO: Brandon Alan Scofield – Codename: Beowulf Agate. Forty-six year old veteran of Consular Operations, Ludlum’s fictional Intelligence Organization specializing in defections from hostile nations – mostly Communist – to the United States.
As The Matarese Circle opens in 1979, Scofield has been with Consular Operations for 22 years, almost since its founding. A Harvard grad fluent in multiple languages, Brandon joined the U.S. State Department right out of college. After a couple years in the “real” State Department he gravitated to State’s covert section Consular Operations (or Cons Op for short).
In those early years Cons Op’s activities were not yet totally Top Secret. They were virtually a humanitarian organization which tried to accommodate as many people fleeing the Iron Curtain nations as possible. So many Eastern Europeans began seeking asylum in the Western World that the Soviets realized they had to take steps to cut off the flow of escapees.
Similar to the way they would later construct the Berlin Wall to prevent flight from East Berlin in particular, the Soviets clamped down on potential defections throughout Europe and elsewhere. Soviet intelligence agents – among them Vasili Taleniekov – began shutting down the almost openly- operating Cons Op defection network. Continue reading
With the news that Steven Spielberg will no longer be directing the bizarre film project Indiana Jones 5, a few readers asked me for Balladeer’s Blog’s take.
In the past I’ve mentioned how foolish it is to think that Harrison Ford MUST play Indy in all the movies. James Bond and Tarzan are just two recurring heroes that have survived multiple casting changes over the years.
The obvious move long ago would have been to cast a younger actor – say, Chris Pratt – as Indiana Jones and detail some of his earlier adventures. I love the Roaring Twenties so I think it would have been great to see Dr Jones’ activities in that decade.
Since it would be before Raiders of the Lost Ark even Belloq (maybe Gary Oldman) could appear in a few installments. I can’t possibly be alone in wanting to see some of those “many stimulating encounters” that Belloq referred to having with Indy in Raiders.
Belloq was French, so do a story with Dr Jones searching for a lost relic in 1920s Vietnam. Belloq’s hoity-toity family could be among the French plantation owners there, helping to set up a clash with our hero. Or have the two vying with each other to recover ancient Russian artifacts from violent factions of Red and White Russians in the years after the Russian Civil War. Any number of things.
One of the main things I hate about keeping Harrison Ford as Indy is the fact that Ford’s age requires the setting to be the 1950s or 1960s. Those decades are far too late for the “homage to 1930s pulp and serial heroes” charm of the original Indiana Jones trilogy.
Back in 2008, instead of the awful Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, they could have made Son of Indiana Jones. Chris Pratt – or anyone else NOT named Shia Lebouf, who is shia venny talent – could have been the son of Indy and Marion, named Gemini Jones or Mercury Jones or something similar. Continue reading
Frederick C Davis: It’s difficult not to picture him as Stephen Thatcher after seeing this picture.
Balladeer’s Blog’s 2020 theme of Top Twenty lists continues with this look at the 20 best pulp stories featuring Frederick C Davis’ hero the Moon Man (1933-1937). The Moon Man was really police detective Stephen Thatcher, who often circumvented the massive corruption in Great City by taking the law into his own hands.
Donning a black outfit and a helmet made of one-way Argus-glass, Thatcher went into action as the Moon Man, defeating and robbing criminals – both blue-collar AND white-collar – and using their ill-gotten gains to help the suffering poor of the city. This made him hunted by both the crooks and the cops years before the Green Hornet came along. For more on the Moon Man click HERE
THE SINISTER SPHERE
Villains: Crooked millionaire Martin Richmond and Kent Atwell, who is embezzling from a charity.
Story: This very first Moon Man story perfectly establishes the background of the tales. The Moon Man robs from a crooked millionaire and has his sidekick Angel (Ned Dargan) distribute the loot among Great City’s poor. Stephen Thatcher’s lady love Sue McEwen has no idea her beau is the romantic Moon Man.
Sue’s father Gil and Stephen’s father Peter are the city’s top cops and have been trying to catch the elusive Robin Hood figure for months. MM also recovers thousands of dollars stolen from a charity by a white-collar criminal.
THE SILVER SECRET
Villain: Corrupt Judge Benjamin, Great City’s secret crime boss. Continue reading
THE ADVENTURES OF NICK CARTER (1972) – Rest in peace, Robert Conrad. For decades, rugged sex symbol Robert Conrad embodied the old expression “women want him and men want to BE him.” My sister Debbie was a huge fan of Robert’s incredibly tight pants and frequently-bared chest.
Thanks to television, home video and the internet, generations of viewers have been treated to Conrad’s memorable portrayals of heroes like old west Secret Service Agent Jim West on Wild, Wild West, real-life World War Two flying ace Greg “Pappy” Boyington on Black Sheep Squadron, secret agent T.R. Sloane on A Man Called Sloane and French trapper Pasquanel on the mini-series Centennial. (“Mawn uh-MEE!”)
A few years after Wild, Wild West went off the air, Conrad starred in this pilot film for a tv series based on old Dime Novel and Pulp hero Nick Carter.
Carter had been around since the 1880s but, presumably to avoid too much resemblance to Wild, Wild West, The Adventures of Nick Carter was set around 1920 instead. Continue reading
Balladeer’s Blog presents another Top Twenty list for 2020. This time it’s a look at the 20 Best Silver John Stories. If you’re not familiar with this neglected Pulp Hero created by Manly Wade Wellman, Silver John was a wandering musician who battled evil supernatural forces in the Appalachian Mountains of yore. His nickname comes from his pure silver guitar strings and the silver coins he wields in his war against darkness. Think Orpheus meets Kolchak. For more info click HERE
O, UGLY BIRD! – In this debut Silver John story the heroic balladeer squares off against a vile man named Osmer. That villain dominates an isolated mountain community through his ability to send forth his soul in the form of a giant, hideous bird to prey on any who oppose him.
THE DESRICK ON YANDRO – Desricks are old mountain cabins dating back to Colonial times. Such cabins were heavily fortified against potential attacks from hostile Native Americans or wild animals. This particular desrick houses a powerful old witch and is guarded by a virtual army of horrific monsters. Silver John must face the Bammat (the last of the woolly mammoths) and the Toller (a deadly winged creature), plus others called the Culverin, the Flat, the Skim and the Behinder. Continue reading
Sylvester Stallone and the Expendables franchise join forces with independent comic book giants like Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan and Richard C Meyer! As the promo says, “The creators of ROCKY and BANE tell a story of supernatural combat.”
The Expendables Go To Hell graphic novel is sort of like The Expendables Meet Army of Darkness with a little of Clive Barker’s Scarlet Gospels thrown in for good measure. (And yes, wouldn’t Bruce Campbell make a great addition to the ranks of the Expendables someday?)
Anyway, per Sylvester Stallone’s own story, Barney Ross (Stallone) and his badass mercenary buddies wind up in Hell where they battle dark supernatural forces as well as some of the most vile figures from history in a joyously over-the-top action extravaganza! And it’s all presented by some of the boldest, most daring and iconoclastic talents working in comics today! Continue reading
Balladeer’s Blog’s end-of-year review continues:
ALIEN OUTLAW (1985) – A review of this vintage B-movie with a butt-kicking heroine. CLICK HERE
KEVIN JACKSON: A MARTIN LUTHER KING PERSON OF COURAGE – A look at yet another courageous iconoclast on the political scene. CLICK HERE
TEXAS 27 FILM VAULT ANNIVERSARY – The 34th anniversary of the first broadcast of the Pre-MST3K show The Texas Twenty-Seven Film Vault. CLICK HERE
PETER TORK IS DEAD, MISS HIM, MISS HIM – With Peter Tork’s passing in February came this review of the NEW Monkees show from the 1980s – CLICK HERE
FIVE MOST UNQUALIFIED U.S. PRESIDENTS – The title speaks for itself. CLICK HERE
FLASH FOR FREEDOM – A review of another of George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman novels. CLICK HERE
SIXTEEN OVERLOOKED SECRETARIES OF STATE – No Kissinger, no Hillary, just forgotten figures. CLICK HERE
BLACK PANTHER: THE FIRST KILLMONGER STORY (1973-1975) – CLICK HERE Continue reading