Tag Archives: Balladeer’s Blog

SPIELBERG … ANNE SPIELBERG

masc graveyard smallerSteven Spielberg’s sister Anne got her start as a producer for many of the cheapjack science fiction films of Robert Emenegger and Allan Sandler. With apologies to fans of the original Doctor Who series, to me, “E-Space” will always mean EMENEGGER SPACE, as in the Emenegger-verse of his series of movies in 1980 and 1981.

Emenegger Space is full of Grade Z special effects, bad acting, a few good ideas and an overall feel of striving for Alien and Star Trek levels but falling far, far short.  

Warp SpeedWARP SPEED (1981) – Set in the far-off year 2013 (!) this movie features the crew of a spaceship sent to determine what happened to the vanished crew of a multi-year mission to Saturn. The organization they serve is called Starfleet, which serves as a reminder that by 1981 there was just the original Star Trek series, its cartoon version and one movie, not the enormous universe of spin-offs that we have today. Point being that the term Starfleet was apparently open for use by other creators. Starfleet features in another Spielberg/ Emenegger/ Sandler joint, too.

Adam West plays Captain Lofton, the leader of the now-lost mission, and has assorted offspring of Cameron Mitchell backing him up in this movie. One such Mitchell, Camille, stars as Dr Janet Trask, a psychic who is sent into the abandoned Atlas vessel to investigate the cause of the crew’s disappearance.

Trask is outfitted with tech which sends back images of the psychic visions she receives of past events on the ghost-ship. Amid assorted David Lynch-style psychosexual interludes we see disaster strike the Atlas, followed by an aborted mission and ultimately a mutiny as the crew try to get the damaged craft back to the Earth. Continue reading

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OBJECT Z (1965): FORGOTTEN TELEVISION

Object ZOBJECT Z (1965) – Directed by Daphne Shadwell and written by Christopher McMaster, this was one of the many six-episode science fiction serials from British television of the 1950s and 1960s. The Quatermass serials are among the best remembered of those programs but there were also items like The Trollenberg Terror, a serial later adapted into the B-Movie The Crawling Eye.

If you’ve seen any of the other British programs like this you’ll know what to expect and whether or not you’ll enjoy this one. Personally I find them fun AND fun-bad all at once so to me they’re more than worth watching.

The storyline in Object Z involves the sighting of a distant space object which, as it draws nearer to the Earth, is determined to be at least six miles long and made of either stone or metal. Soon it becomes clear that it is going to collide with the Earth. Continue reading

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DUNE: AN OPERA CYCLE

Here at Balladeer’s Blog I love sharing my enthusiasms. My blog posts where I provide contemporary slants to Ancient Greek Comedies to make them more accessible have been big hits over the years, so I’ve been trying it with operas, too. Previously I wrote about how Philip Wylie’s science fiction novel Gladiator could be done as an opera. Then I looked at how an opera version of the 1966 Spaghetti Western Django could be done and then an opera based on the novel Venus in Furs.

This blog post starts a look at how the original Dune novel could be done as an entire cycle of operas.

DUNE

LANGUAGE: Spanish. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that most of my fellow English-speakers find English-language operas to be silly. The prosaic nature of the forced rhymes in a language we are well-versed in does seem to rob opera of its mystique and its grandeur.

SINGERS: Two Baritones, two Bass-Baritones, two Sopranos, one Mezzo-Soprano, four Tenors, a contralto and a Bass.

ACTS: FOUR ACTS 

STORY: My fellow Dune geeks may get annoyed with this change, but remember, adaptations for staged performances have to be made very tight. I would start out at the Arrakeen Great Hall as the family and court members of House Atreides have just arrived on Arrakis/ Dune, the desert planet. All the scenes that the book covered while the Atreides family were preparing to depart their home on Caladan would instead play out shortly after their arrival on their new planetary fiefdom. Continue reading

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FLASHMAN OF ARABIA – LOST FLASHMAN PAPERS

Lee Horsley tubFor Flashman Down Under, Flashman in the Opium War & Flashman and the Kings click HERE   For Flashman on the Gold Coast click HERE  . Balladeer’s Blog now moves on to another Harry Flashman adventure referred to but never completed before George MacDonald Fraser’s death.

Lee Horsley Flashman

IF HE WAS BRITISH, LEE HORSLEY WOULD HAVE MADE A PERFECT HARRY FLASHMAN.

Projected Title: FLASHMAN OF ARABIA

Time Period: 1852-1854

The Setup: Sometime in the second half of 1852 Harry Flashman at last arrives back in England from his travels which began in 1848. The scandals he fled have fallen into relative obscurity and he’s getting some positive acclaim over his recent experiences during the Australian Gold Rush and earlier participation in a wagon train across America.

In addition he’s finally gotten to see his son “Havvy” (not Harry), the child his wife Elspeth was pregnant with when his travels began.

The Story: The one and only Richard Burton, viewing Harry as a kindred spirit, reaches out via correspondence and personally to encourage Flashman to write some papers and deliver public talks about his journey through America and Australia. Always ready to play to his public, and now discovering the raconteur side of his personality, Harry writes a (very) bowdlerized account of his adventures of the past four years and even delivers a few talks at which he meets Burton in person.  

Burton's bookThe duo enjoy diving into the darker and more forbidden side of life where sex, booze and other diversions are concerned. Flashman happens to be with Burton in Egypt in early 1853 when the famous explorer begins his journey to Medina and Mecca disguised as a Muslim.

We will learn he originally invited Harry to accompany him, since our protagonist was fluent in the necessary languages and was well-versed in Muslim customs from his military service in Afghanistan in the early 1840s. Flashman would have initially turned down the offer and stayed behind in Egypt until, getting into his usual trouble from boozing, whoring and gambling he would wind up fleeing for his life. Continue reading

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DUCKWORTH DREW: RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1973)

rivals of sherlockFor Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the very first episode of this 1971-1973 series about London by Gaslight detectives from both the Victorian and Edwardian Ages you can simply click HERE

Duckworth DrewEpisode: THE SECRET OF THE FOXHUNTER (February 3rd, 1973)

Detective: Duckworth Drew of the Foreign Office, created by William Le Queux. The first Duckworth Drew story was published in 1903. Apparently the creative team on the television show found “Duckworth” to be too silly sounding so they instead gave the character the first name of his creator, William. 

Comment: In Drew’s adventures he wasn’t so much a rival of Sherlock Holmes as a detective, but more in terms of the handful of Holmes stories in which he served as a spy. Duckworth, or “Ducky” as he’s called by intimate friends, is the archetypal British spy whose diplomatic titles are just a cover for his espionage antics. Derek Jacobi shines as the intelligence operative.

Drew is often cited as one of the many, many supposed influences on Ian Fleming’s much later character James Bond. He does periodically use Q-style devices (Was Q a subtle nod to Le Queux?) like drugged cigars and drugged pins that can render people unconscious or paralyzed.

Duckworth Drew againSomething I found interesting about the Duckworth Drew spy stories was the way that, despite their national chauvinism in which it is just assumed that Great Britain is “the good guy,” the rival powers of Germany, Russia and France are not depicted as devils incarnate. Certainly they’re never presented in truly sympathetic ways but since these stories were written before the World Wars and the Cold War, they’re comparatively restrained in dealing with Drew’s opposition.     

That restraint is typical of the relative maturity of the stories. England would often adjust its policies to court support from one or two of those powers against the others. Therefore, it wouldn’t do to hysterically demonize those other nations since HMG is sometimes in league with each of them in turn. And – another refreshing element – it is taken in stride by Drew and his superiors that Germany, Russia and France do the same thing. There’s almost an air of the Mario Puzo attitude “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” Continue reading

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ISLAND OF THE LOST (1967): MOVIE REVIEW

Island of the LostISLAND OF THE LOST (1967) – Directed by John Florea and written by Richard Carlson and Ivan Tors, this family adventure movie starred Richard Greene, known for playing Robin Hood in the 1950s television series and for playing Sir Denis Nayland Smith in a few of the Fu Manchu movies from the 1960s.

In addition to Greene, Island of the Lost provides additional cultural kitsch appeal: You’ve got producer Ivan Tors of Flipper fame dragging along Luke Halpin, the boy star of that series. Ivan also seems to have brought along a LOT of Flipper stock footage for the underwater scenes. Jose de Vega from Blue Hawaii is also in the cast as are soap opera queen Robin Mattson and the ubiquitous Irene Tsu. Plus the screenwriter is THE Richard Carlson, star of many b-movies.

Island of the Lost 2Richard Greene AND Richard Carlson? You know that with a couple of Dicks like them around we are in for some campiness and lame special effects that might have been acceptable in the 1950s … in black & white, not color. 

Greene portrays Professor Josh MacRae, a scholar who is convinced that there are undiscovered islands in the Pacific Ocean, islands on which live creatures long thought extinct. Like so many movie professors, he organizes his own expedition to try to prove his theory. And if he dies in the attempt he plans to take his whole family down with him! Continue reading

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MY COUSIN’S AIRSHIP (1902): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

Thank you to all of you who have expressed condolences over recent family events. You people are the greatest! 

My Cousin's AirshipMY COUSIN’S AIRSHIP, A TALE OF 1950 (1902) – Written by W.F. Alexander. Though written in 1902 this story is set in a fictional 1950 which has seen incredible scientific advances.

The action begins in England, where our narrator lives with his true love Margaret. His cousin Stephen Rankin – a former rival for Margaret’s affections – is a nasty mean-spirited mad scientist figure.

Stephen has invented a new type of aerocar which can travel 45 miles per hour, which we readers are told makes it the fastest aircraft of 1950. (!) As a peace-making gesture the inventor invites our narrator along for a joyride in the airship. Continue reading

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FLASHMAN ON THE GOLD COAST – LOST FLASHMAN PAPERS

For Flashman Down Under, Flashman in the Opium War & Flashman and the Kings click HERE   For Flashman of Arabia click HERE Balladeer’s Blog now moves on to another Harry Flashman adventure referred to but never completed before George MacDonald Fraser’s death. FOR MY COUNTDOWN OF THE TOP FIVE FLASHMAN NOVELS CLICK HERE.

elmina castleProjected Title: FLASHMAN ON THE GOLD COAST

Time Period: Third Ashanti War (1873-1874)

The Setup: Queen Victoria’s Empire – specifically the British Gold Coast – bought the Dutch Gold Coast from Holland in 1871. The nearby Ashanti People of Africa had been at peace with the Dutch for over 200 years but were wary of their “new neighbors” and were protective of their enormous wealth in gold. They invaded the British Gold Coast in May, 1873.  

flashman shieldIn June the advance of the Ashanti was halted at Elmina and back in England Her Majesty’s Government made plans to send additional troops to the Gold Coast to deal with the situation. By August 13th General Garnet Wolseley was chosen to lead the army.

The Story: Wolseley, personally familiar with Flashman from the Crimean War and the Great Mutiny, would draft the reluctant Colonel-on-Half-Pay into his campaign. Sir Harry’s knack for picking up languages and his years of experience as a colonial officer would convince Wolseley of our hero’s fitness for this type of warfare, no matter what excuses Flashman would try to use.  Continue reading

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DENNIS QUAID FILM FESTIVAL

dennis quaidDennis Quaid aka Furious DQ is the subject of this list of brief film reviews. Ignore Buzzfeed reports that Dairy Queen (DQ) is partnering with Balladeer’s Blog to sponsor a Dennis Quaid Film Festival in Rio. In fact, you should just ignore ALL Buzzfeed reports, period, at this point.

Let’s dive into this look at some of the films of Ed Miller himself from The Long Riders: Dennis Quaid. NOTE: These will be films in which Dennis was the male lead, hence no Right Stuff, Wyatt Earp, etc. Quaid should have been made the new Indiana Jones right after Harrison Ford’s Last Crusade in 1989. Magnificent missed opportunity.

big easyTHE BIG EASY (1986)

Role: Police Detective Remy McSwain

Female Lead: Ellen Barkin

Comment: One of the most underrated films of the 1980s. Think of The Big Easy as Cajun-blackened Film Noir, which, of course, makes it colorful and upbeat Film Noir with kickass music.

Set in New Orleans (known as the Big Easy for you overseas readers) this hardboiled mystery features Assistant DA Anne Osborne (Barkin) clashing, bickering, flirting with and falling for Quaid as Lt Remy McSwain. Remy is investigating Wiseguy murders that hint at an impending gangster war while Anne is probing police corruption.

The sparks fly between McSwain and Osborne but we viewers wonder if he’s playing her because he has too much to hide or if she’s playing him A Taxing Woman style. We also wonder if the omerta practiced by Remy and his police colleagues is simply because of the casual graft they’re into or if they’ve graduated from being crooked cops to being outright soldiers of organized crime.

Ned Beatty, Grace Zabriskie and John Goodman are in supporting roles in this enjoyable mystery/ rom-com/ travelogue for New Orleans.

great balls of fireGREAT BALLS OF FIRE (1989)

Role: Jerry Lee Lewis

Female Lead: Winona Ryder

Comment: What The Buddy Holly Story was to Gary Busey, this movie was to Dennis Quaid. Hollywood bio-pic rules apply so the emphasis is on old-school rock music and a rip-roaring good time instead of accuracy. The movie plays its story so lightly and entertainingly that the approach works. Continue reading

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CHARLES DALLAS: RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1973)

rivals of sherlockFor Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the very first episode of this 1971-1973 series about London by Gaslight detectives from both the Victorian and Edwardian Ages you can simply click HERE

Charles DallasEpisode: THE MISSING Q.Cs. (April 9th, 1973)

Detective: Charles Dallas, created by John Oxenham (pen name of William Arthur Dunkerley). The first Charles Dallas story was published in 1898 in Harmsworth London Magazine.

Comment: John Oxenham’s crime novels and short stories deserve to be rediscovered and made available to a much wider audience. A Mystery of the Underground, his 1897 detective story about a serial killer committing seemingly impossible Phantom of the Opera-style murders on the London Underground was his best-known crime thriller. However, his mystery-solving lawyer Charles Dallas should also be remembered since he was basically a Victorian Age forerunner of Rumpole of the Bailey.

As an example of the impact of Oxenham’s writing consider this – it’s a historical footnote that while his subway killer tale was being serialized, Tuesday night use of the London Underground plummeted to record lows because the fictional murderer only struck on Tuesday evenings. You can look it up for yourself.

Synopsis: Handsome young lawyer Charles Dallas (Robin Ellis) is a Junior Defense Barrister for Queen’s Counsel (Q.C.) defense attorney Sir Revel Revell (seriously), played by John Barron. Like the Victorian Age’s fictional master thief A.J. Raffles, he’s also a top-notch Cricket player whose athletic accomplishments are often in the newspapers.

Milly Revell and Charles DallasCharles has been dating Sir Revel’s daughter Milly (Celia Bannerman), a practicing nurse who keeps pressuring her beau to ask her father for her hand in marriage. Between his law career, his Cricket games and his sleuthing he just can’t seem to find the right moment for it, which causes periodic tensions between the two lovebirds. Continue reading

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