Leaving Bondi

BondiAuthor: Robert G. Barrett
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: 2000

Over the years I have read a few of Robert G. Barrett’s Les Norton series. I don’t know how many there are in the series. I have about seven of them, and I’d guess there’s probably that many I don’t have. I have always found them to be – for wont of a lazy comparison – a knockabout variation on the Cliff Hardy stories – the obvious connection being that they are often set in Sydney (but the boys move around a bit from story to story). However Les is not a Private Detective like Hardy. Instead he’s a trouble shooter at the Kelly Club. ‘Trouble’ being the operative word. Les seems to attract it. In this story he gets mixed up in a movie deal – the movie being called ‘Leaving Bondi’.

As I implied above, I have enjoyed many of Norton’s adventures – but this one was undone by one particularly sleazy scene which ruined the whole book. In the scene, Les rescues a drugged girl from a cult of devil-worshipers who are about to slit her throat. After the rescue, Les takes the unconscious girl back to his hotel room – and let’s just say things get a little rapey for my liking. Worse, still the incident is passed off as a joke a bit later on. The Les Norton stories have never really been politically correct, but this one went over the line for me.

I doubt international readers would find a lot to enjoy in the Les Norton series. They are very Australian with little explanation of the wheres and whyfores – if you’re not familiar with the place names and products you may feel left out – and very much of their time. This book is fourteen years old and some of the products mentioned are no longer available, television shows are no longer on etc…

The Les Norton books can be good fun, but unless you’re a die hard fan of the series, I’d give this one a miss.

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Iron Head & Other Stories

IronHeadThe Fight Card team flexes its muscles for a good cause. Iron Head and Other Stories is the first of several charity anthologies being released by the Fight Card team over the next few months, and it includes my vintage fight fiction short, Bushwhacked – written under the pen name James Hopwood.

All monies made from this project go to revered Western (and other genres) writer, Jory Sherman who has racked up a stack of medical bills. Over the years, Jory has not only been a prolific writer, he has been a mentor to many other up and coming writers.

Here’s the blurb from Bushwhacked.

Trooper Gladstone Farrell of Victorian Colonial Police Force was corrupt as they came.

Farrell had a fearsome reputation throughout the Central Victorian Goldfields. He was not in the least concerned at keeping the peace. As far as he was concerned, ‘Gold Fever’ was about money, and he did everything possible to get his share. However, this did not include hard labor, such as digging or panning for gold. His methods were much simpler. He would allow others to do the hard graft, and when they had found a few ounces he would swoop – always in the capacity of a custodian of the law. Most of the miners in the area didn’t have licenses, so when Farrell came calling, they either had to pay a portion of their diggings or face a hefty fine. Either way, Farrell got their gold or their money.

When Farrell swooped on the Clancy brothers for mining without a license, they made an unusual proposition to keep from going to jail. Danny Clancy was a bare-knuckles fighter; but not an honest one. His next fight was fixed, and his opponent was set to fall in the sixth round. Farrell muscled in on the deal, intending to collect two ways – first taking his cut from the Clancy brothers, and secondly, cleaning up with his own side bet.

James Hopwood (pen name of David James Foster), author of King of the Outback, a hard punching story in the Fight Card series is back with another knuckle bruising tale. A tale in which nothing is as it seems, and in which someone will be Bushwhacked!

Even if you’ve already grabbed a copy and read Bushwhacked, there are nine other great stories in this collection and at only US$1.99 – less than a glass or beer or cup of coffee – there’s plenty of fine entertainment to be found in these pages, and you’ll be helping a good cause.

You can find Iron Head and Other Stories at Amazon.

Fight Card Presents: Iron Head & Other Stories is the first in a series of charity anthologies from the Fight Card authors cooperative – a writers community featuring many of today’s finest fictioneers, including Jory Sherman, Ryan McFadden, Mark Finn, Troy D. Smith, Ed Greenwood, Jack Badelaire, James Scott Bell, James Hopwood, Bowie V. Ibarra, and Matthew Pizzolato.

Compiled by Paul Bishop and Jeremy L. C. Jones, 100% of the proceeds from these anthologies will go directly to an author-in-need (in this case, revered western writer Jory Sherman) or a literacy charity. Words on paper are the life blood of a writer. The writers in this volume were willing to bleed in order to give a transfusion to one of their own – and then continue to bleed to give a transfusion to literacy charities in support of that most precious of commodities … readers. They are true fighters, every one …

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Sudden Impact (1983)

SuddenImpact_B2-1-500x692Country: United States
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, Bradford Dillman, Albert Popwell
Music: Lalo Schifrin

I am sure that I do not have to introduce the character of Dirty Harry Callahan. Sudden Impact was the fourth film in the Dirty Harry series, preceded by Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, and The Enforcer. And preceding The Dead Pool.

I have very mixed feelings about Sudden Impact. On one hand, it is a sleazy repugnant little film. Easily the worst of the Dirty Harry films. But for me, it represents one of the rites of manhood. The film was released in 1983, with a ‘R’ certificate, which meant that in Australia, no one under the age of 18 years could see the film. I would have been around 15 years old when the film was released, and therefore was too young to go to a screening.

At this time, I still lived in the country, up north on the Murray River. But frequently the family would make trips on the weekend to Melbourne. We would often stay at my aunt and uncle’s place and sleep on the floor, as it was cheaper than hotel accommodation. One of these trips coincided with the release of Sudden Impact. And somehow, I managed to convince my father and my uncle to take me to see the film. My thinking was, that if I was accompanied by two men who were clearly over 18, then the staff at the cinema would not question my age. So it was, the three of us went into the heart of the city to see Sudden Impact on a Saturday night.

I remember walking beside them, proud as punch. I also remember, the sex show spruikers asking us to “step this way gentleman, show starts right away”. With a firm hand on my shoulder, my dad steered me past these temptations, and towards the movie house. There was no trouble at the cinema whatsoever, and we all enjoyed the film. And that is one of the things about Sudden Impact; it is a film, that should be seen on the big screen and with a crowd. The film has quite a few comedic moments, and these play a lot better with a crowd. When the crowd laughs, you laugh. And this comedy balances out the more sleazy aspects of the film.

This is something that I noticed years later when the film became available on video. On television, and without a crowd behind me, my reaction to the film was very different. Initially, at the cinema, I thought the film was fantastic. An exciting blend of blazing Magnum action, and witty dialogue. But on video, with much of the humour diluted, you’re left with a tale of rape and revenge, and even Callahan’s motives are dodgy. At the end of the film, he puts himself above the law, allowing a killer to go free.

But the film reached a level of popularity beyond its story, when Ronald Regan – President of the United States at that time – quoted the ‘Make My Day!’ line from the film. Much like Rambo: First Blood Part II, the film and its loner hero came to epitomize the new America – a country that was regaining its sense of worth after the Iran hostage situation. Many words have already been spent analyzing the political content in the Dirty Harry films – so I’ll move on, leaving that to the experts.

The story is quite simple. Sondra Locke plays a woman who, along with her sister, was gang raped by a bunch of students led by a psychopath. Many years later, she starts seeking revenge shooting the offending members. After the few few deaths, the psychopath cottons on to what’s happening, and decides to strike back. But naturally enough, standing between both parties is Harry Callahan – armed with a new weapon – the .44 Magnum Automag. Gun-porn fans rejoice.

It almost seems funny looking back at it now, and seeing how far Harry Callahan had changed from the original Dirty Harry, to the stylized and somewhat sleazy mayhem in Sudden Impact. It’s only Eastwood’s presence and the .44 magnum that ties it all together.

As I said, I have very mixed feelings about the film. I know it is not very good, but maybe because of the built in affection I have for it, I cut it more slack than most.

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Superseven Calling Cairo (1965)

Country: Italy / France
Starring: Roger Browne, Fabienne Dali, Massimo Serato, Dina De Santis, Rosalba Neri, Antonio Gradoli, Mino Doro
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Original Title: Superseven chiama Cairo

There are heaps of styles of spy films, but I think the ones I enjoy the most are the jet-set globe trotters from the 1960s. You can often tell a globe-trotter by its title, which often had the name of the city or country where the action was set. If a spy story uses an exotic location, then it wasn’t unusual for that location to be mentioned in the title. The roll call of holiday destinations for spies included, Our Man In Havana, Funeral In Berlin, That Man In Istanbul, Espionage In Tangiers, The Girl From Rio, Assassination In Rome, Our Man In Marrakech, Fury In The Orient, Hong Kong Hot Harbour, Our Man In Jamaica and many, many others. Having said all that, of course, just because a film is set in a particular location, it doesn’t mean it was actually filmed there. In fact most Eurospy films were shot on sound-stages in Rome, with a series of travelogue shots crudely inserted into them. The travelogue shots were at best, filmed by a second unit team, or at worst, simply stock footage. The film under the microscope today is Superseven Calling Cairo, directed by Umberto Lenzi, and it looks like in this instance, that a decent second unit team was hired to pick up the shots required for the film, with locations as diverse as London, Paris, Rome, Locarno, and of course, Cairo.

The film stars the impossibly square-jawed Robert Browne as Martin Stevens, Agent Superseven. See what they did there? He’s not 007, 077, or even agent 777 – Superseven is even better – he’s ‘Super’. The film opens in Paris, and Superseven is in a hotel room, delicately chewing on the bottom lip of a strawberry blonde. Just as things are about to get steamy, she pulls away, claiming to have forgotten an appointment with the Turkish Military Attache. She has promised to deliver a cheque to him – the catch being that first, Superseven has to write the cheque. This lovey-dovey scenario is actually a mission, and Superseven is buying … something. We never find out what it is, because as he is writing the cheque, in the mirror he watches as she retrieves a pistol from her handbag. In a flash he spins around, and flicks around the pen he was using to write with – because it is also a gun. He fires twice, shooting her in the belly. Chalk one up for Martin Stevens — Mr. Kiss Kiss Kill Kill!

The film skips ahead to London, and to the Waterloo Museum which actually houses the Secret Service. Stevens bypasses the historically dressed manikins and old armaments, for his mission briefing with the chief, who is known as The Professor. The Prof. Asks if Stevens has heard of Baltonium. The agent says he hasn’t, and The Prof. explains that it is a new element which is one hundred times more radioactive than uranium – but it can be handled in complete safety, like any other ordinary, stable mineral. Furthermore, a three ounce sample of Baltonium has been stolen, and the metal turned into a piece of the lens of portable movie camera. This camera, and fifty other normal versions just like it have been shipped to Cairo, where the dealer was supposed to pass the sample off to a third party who had made arrangements to sell it to Russia.

However, the ‘special’ camera was unwittingly sold to a tourist by mistake. Stevens’ job, should he choose to accept it, is to go to Cairo, track down the tourist, and retrieve the camera and the Baltonium before the opposition can. Of course, ‘our man’ accepts the mission.

Although it’s highly doubtful that Roger Browne actually left Rome; Martin Stevens, Agent Superseven, arrives in Cairo and the montage of travelogue shots begins; interspersed with shots of Stevens and sweaty looking locals with twitching mustaches, wearing fezzes. Superseven is expected however, and the villains of the piece, headed by an ex-Nazi named Alex (Massimo Serato) have prepared a reception committee for him. As far as reception committees go, this one isn’t too bad. As Stevens arrives at his hotel room he finds Fadja Hassan (Rosalba Neri) in his shower. She claims that the shower in her room next door is broken. Stevens doesn’t buy it, but what the heck – he has only just arrived in town and there is already a naked women in his room – what’s not to like?

So then the mating ritual begins. In spy films, romance, and ‘pulling a bird’ are quite different to real life. Well I guess that’s true in any movie or television show, but at least in other genres they tend to play out the usual boy meets girl moments – minus the awkward moments that happen in real life – but spy films there is no effort made at pretending that there is an attraction. In Superseven she abuses him, and then he abuses her. Then he grabs her, drags her in and kisses her. She appears not to like it, and he doesn’t care if she likes it or not. Then they sleep together. I am no expert, but being smarmy and obnoxious has never worked for me. But look at all the spies that this works for — I mean Tony Kendall in the Kommissar X films made a career out of being a jerk, but still was always surround by a bevy of beautiful women. I just don’t get it. But hey, it works for Roger Browne and the story moves forward because of it.

But Superseven is more than a one woman guy, and Cairo serves up many other women he can abuse, and the next one is Denise (Fabienne Dali). Denise was working at the camera shop, where the movie camera was sold to the tourist, so our hero quickly hits on her. Initially she is repulsed, but still agrees to take a few weeks leave and accompany him as he searches the tourist destinations. He wins her over by confessing that ‘he is a spy… you know, like James Bond.’ The magic words ‘James Bond’ are the clincher and soon our dynamic duo are on a camel at the pyramids of Giza.

Although, at the head of this review, I opined that I prefer my spy films to be globe-trotting ones, I believe it is the globe-trotting that lets this film down. Not that there is anything wrong with the travelogue and second unit footage that is cut into the story. The things is, focusing on globe-trotting seems to have gotten in the way of pace and story telling. Director, Umberto Lenzi, in the 1970s, with many of his hard and fast Euro Crime films, proved that he can make taut, and tough films, with proficient action scenes in them. It didn’t matter that they were almost bound to the one city, such as Rome, Milan or Naples. In fact, he made that work in favour of the stories. But here, much of the time is wasted on shots that simply seem to be inserted into the story for the sake of the location. The sequence at the pyramids is a perfect example – cutting it from the movie, wouldn’t detract from the story at all. But then again, when you promote your film as being set in Egypt, I guess some skylarking amongst the antiquities is expected. But it doesn’t make it a better film.

Ultimately, despite all the things that this film does right, the stodgy middle and the padding travelogue shots stop Superseven Calling Cairo from being a top-tier Eurospy film. It isn’t a stinker — it is at least comprehensible and provides a few high-points — but there are far better Eurospy films out there to sample and enjoy. This one is for completists only, all others should give it a miss.

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A Dirty Dozen With Barry Reese

Lazarus Gray

New Pulp fans may want to check out an interview with Barry Reese – author of The Rook and the Lazarus Gray series (amongst many others) – on Bish’s Beat. Paul Bishop chains Barry to a chair, shines bright lights in his eyes and asks him twelve tough questions about his career and creations.

You can check it out here.

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Commando: Operation Cannibal

OpCanAuthor: Jack Badelaire
Published: December 2013

Operation Cannibal is the third book in the highly enjoyable Commando series (following Operation Arrowhead and Operation Bedlam) written by indie author Jack Badelaire. The story is a stand alone adventure, and having read to first two book is not a necessity.

While the first two titles in the series, saw Corporal Lynch and the 3 Commando unit fighting the Jerries in occupied France, this tale sees the unit in Northern Africa, fighting heat, sand and… naturally enough, more Germans – this time members of Rommel’s Afrika Korp, allied with members of the Italian light infantry, the Bersaglieri.

Like the previous books in the series, Cannibal serves up all the usual boys-own-adventure you could desire – bullets, bombs, bren guns and more. However, author Jack Badelaire has not not only changed the setting, but also added a dollop of suspense at the start, which serves the story well.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, you should check the series out.

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Dig Two Graves

DTGAuthor: Eric Beetner
Publisher: Snubnose Press
Published: November 2011

As the title, Dig Two Graves, would imply, this novella is a tale of revenge. It concerns Val, who is an ex-con. But one who has lived a strange double life. On civi-street he is straight, and while in prison he is gay – described as an ‘innie and outie’. As the story begins Val is busted by the police. He was ratted out by his prison lover, a Latino named Ernesto.

From page one, Dig Two Graves is a wild ride, and the pace doesn’t let up. Val escapes from custody and seeks vengeance. Forgive me for being light on details, but I don’t really want to give any of the twists and turns away. I probably have already said too much!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this story is it serves up crime genre cliché after cliché – or at least it sets up each set piece that way – but as the story plays out, each of these sequences is turned on their head. Just when you think you know where the story is going, and you have read it all before, author, Eric Beetner drags the story kicking and screaming in a completely opposite direction.

This book is not for everyone. It fast, furious and filthy – and violent, but I found it to be a breath of fresh air in a genre where so many stories read the same. Highly recommended.

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Paint a (Comic) Picture

Guest Post by Andrez Bergen

Sneak Preview_Tales to Admonish 2_2014 art by Matt Kyme

2013 was, for me, a year of comic book reacquaintance verging on renaissance.

It was (and still is, at least for a few more days) the year I finally dug in heels to read and indulge in the absolute pleasures of Alan Moore’s Watchmen (art by Dave Gibbons) and V for Vendetta (with David Lloyd).

I brushed up on Jim Steranko’s entire run with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1966-68), went back to the late ’70s basics of Judge Dredd that I barely remember thanks to The Complete Case Files 01, spent glorious time with Will Eisner’s The Spirit and such femme fatales as P’Gell and Sand Saref, and then re-examined the 1960s development of The Avengers and Thor.

Jim Steranko_Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

2013 was that kind of moment.

HeropaThis might come as no surprise to those who know I published my third novel Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? in September — a noir/pulp-flavoured mystery that’s heavily influenced by 1940s (Golden Age), 1960s (Silver Age) and early 1980s (Bronze Age) comic books.

Thing is, I finished tarting up that manuscript in February and most of the comics reading has come since wrapping it.

Call me reignited with the four-colour passion.

And this, after years of estrangement from contemporary American and British comic books.

Over the past decade or so I’d stayed afloat via endless re-reads of Jack Kirby/Stan Lee Fantastic Four and Captain America from the 1960s, Roy Thomas & Barry Smith’s work with Conan in the early ’70s, Byrne/Claremont’s dawning 1980s X-Men, and Frank Miller’s mid ’80s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Plus all the manga surrounding me over here in Japan.

So it’s been a revelation to step back into the fray, discovering Western sequential art new, old and middle-aged alike.

Of the recent, the standout American title has been All-New X-Men by Brian Bendis & Stuart Immonen, even if I sometimes get frustrated with the pacing and characterizations. Mostly this has been a romp. I also dig what Gail Simone & Walter Geovani are doing with Red Sonja.

Back in Australia the indie comic book scene is booming far more than it did when I lived there, with some great titles including Ben Michael Byrne’s Kranburn and Craig Bruyn’s From Above.

Also look out for the diverse work of fellow Aussies Paul Mason, Matt Nicholls, Bernard Caleo, Paul Bedford and Frank Candiloro.

Uncanny Adventures2013 saw my own baby-steps in comic book activity, since I had sequential stories published in collaboration with artists Drezz Rodriguez, Andrew Chiu, Michael Grills, Marcos Vergara and Nathan St. John, and did my own art and story for another. These came out in The Tobacco-Stained Sky, The Condimental Op and Uncanny Adventures.

Best of all, I finally got to publish my first comic book in collusion with fellow Melbourne artist Matt Kyme — who’s been an absolute revelation to work with.

This is a guy who improves leaps and bounds with every frame he draws, and is able to channel old school artists like Kirby and Eisner without ever once coming across derivative. I love what he does, his sensibilities, and the fact we bounce off one another like well-aligned elastic bands.

Tales to AdmonishOur Tales to Admonish #1 came out in October as a full-colour glossy with three yarns included, and we’re about to wrap #2 for early 2014.

In between, while doing press for Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, I’ve been blessedly enabled to share email words of “wisdom” with Roy Thomas, Joe Sinnott, Steranko’s manager, and Robin Snyder — who works extensively with comic book legend Steve Ditko.

Oh, and by the way, in case you think I gush too much, there were some bombs in this annual reading matter.

However you may look at it, some of the new stuff filtering through from Marvel and DC lacks… soul, since I’m clutching at the right word to use. This material is invariably slick and gorgeous to look at, but polished up too much and occasionally comes across banal. Look to your roots, guys — there’s no harm in employing a rear vision mirror while addressing the future. Dust adds depth.

And the other reading matter, especially the ’60s Avengers and Thor, too often came across as over-worked staff putting on a listless soap opera drama in which dames are weak and the men sprout the same lines each issue. Not to fault the art so much, but the scripts and dialogue pale when compared with the Fantastic Four material from the same era.

The X-Men post-John Byrne, in the latter half of the 1980s especially, was a suffering slog since Chris Claremont appears to have sunk into repeat-mode and the artists never matched Byrne at his peak.

The graphic novel covering the Supergirl revamp in 1996 by Peter David and Gary Frank was basically a waste of time that I struggled to finish, and I wasn’t so impressed with Mark Waid’s rejig in 2011 of Daredevil with artists Paolo Rivera & Marcos Martin.

Daredevil 181 by Frank MillerA far superior dram was returning to Frank Miller’s Daredevil of issues 168-182 (1981-82) thanks to Daredevil Visionaries - Frank Miller, Vol. 2, which was better than I remembered — and I already held it up to nostalgically high standards.

And digging up older still material from the 1940s — lesser-known characters such as Bulletgirl and Tarpé Mills’ Miss Fury — has been another highlight for the year.

The joys do continue somewhat unabated.

I’ve just found out that Titan Books will be putting out a collection next year from essential 1970s British comic Action (featuring such mad romps as ‘Hook Jaw’ and ‘Death Game 1999′) — and I hear Santa Claus is going to gift me with an omnibus by Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill that I haven’t yet read.

More, please.



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Black Fedora

Black FedoraAuthors: B.C. Bell / Phillip Drayer Duncan / Kevin Paul Shaw Broden
Publisher: Pro Se Productions
Published: September 2013

Any story, is only as good as its villain. But what happens when the story is twisted a bit, so the villain becomes the star of the show, rather than the hero? I am not talking about the Joker, Darth Vader or Blofeld. They exist as foils for their heroic counterparts, Batman, Luke Skywalker and James Bond. I am talking about the really bad guys who overshadow the goodness and light heroes – such as Fu Manchu, Dr. Mabuse or Fantomas.

Adopting the same approach – where the villain is the hero – comes Black Fedora – a compendium of three tales where the villain is the star attraction. The first tale, Sometimes They Pay in Bullets, written by B.B. Bell, is a noirish crime tale that would appeal to people who like Richard Stark’s (Donald Westlake) Parker series, Terrence McCauley’s Prohibition – or films like High Sierra (with Humphrey Bogart) or Point Blank (with Lee Marvin).

The villain in question is a man named Keller. As the story begins, Keller returns to an un-named gambling town and immediately is caught up in a turf war between two mobsters, Fabian and O’Hannoran. But Keller is not the type to align with anybody for long. He is out for himself. The story features gunfights, corrupt cops, bent politicians and a dame with a hidden agenda.

The second entry is The Warden, written by Phillip Drayer Duncan, and it is extremely different in tone and style to the first. It is a wise-cracking super-hero story. Sorry, let me rephrase that – super villain story.

The Warden, of the title, is a villain whose specialty is capturing super heroes and locking them away in a purpose built prison. This story sees him taking on Mr. Elusive in a smackdown battle in the heart of the city. The Warden is a blast from first word to last.

Rounding out the collection is The Man Who Stole Manhattan by Kevin Paul Shaw Broden, which is a steampunk adventure (with a dash of the Rocketeer thrown in for good measure). The villain is the Maestro Mechanic – who, as the title would imply, steals Manhattan.

If I have a criticism of the book (and other readers may think this is of little consequence – and may in fact be a strength) is that each of the stories are so very different. Aside from the central villainous thread, the book doesn’t feel cohesive to me. Please Note: That is not a criticism of the stories, but the package. I can imagine readers who enjoy the tough noirish thrills in Sometime They Pay in Bullets being slightly perturbed as they roll onto the lighter, wise-cracking story, The Warden. But maybe that is just me? But moving away from my curious peccadilloes, put simply, in Black Fedora, there is crime noir story, a super hero story, and a steampunk story. If you enjoy these genres, then there’s no reason you wouldn’t enjoy the book.

As advertised, the bad guys are front and center and determined to do things their way – and heaven help any lawman who gets in their way.

Here’s the press-release from Pro Se.

Welcome to the dark side. BLACK FEDORA holds stories where the hero is the villain and one person’s crime is another person’s glory. Get ready to step out of the light and take a tour of various underworlds with three tales that give a steely-eyed look at what secrets lurk beneath the BLACK FEDORA.

This exciting anthology consists of tales by B. C. Bell, Phillip Drayer Duncan, and Kevin Paul Shaw Broden and a stunning cover by the best Pulp Artist today, Douglas Klauba! Edited by Brad Mendel and Mark Beaulieu with cover design and print formatting by Sean Ali and Ebook formatting by Russ Anderson, BLACK FEDORA is so good it’s criminal.

“Villains,” Tommy Hancock, Pro Se Productions’ Editor in Chief and Partner in the company, states, “fascinate us. Since the beginning of storytelling, no tale is complete without the bad guy or gal. They capture our imagination so much that we have this almost insatiable need to turn them into the hero, even going as far as justifying the villain’s actions. From penny dreadfuls that made Billy the Kid an upstanding defender of widows and orphans to the almost fanatical fandom for types such as J. R. Ewing, villains speak to all of us.”

“In Pulp, though, the Villain didn’t necessarily ascend to Hero status. From Fu Manchu to Doctor Death (both of them), the villain, though he may have stated reasons his cause was just, was a bad guy. That’s what BLACK FEDORA is all about. Yes, it brings the evildoer to the forefront, but it doesn’t strip the character of its purpose, of its design. The bad guys in these pages are as bad as they come. Fortunately we have their stories told by three of the best writers in Genre Fiction today. This collection at least allows us all to vicariously cheer for the villain and for a little while wear the BLACK FEDORA.”

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The Bodyguard (1973 / 1976)

bodyguard_1976_poster_01Country: Japan
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Aaron Banks, Judy Lee, Bill Louie
Director: Tatsuichi Takamori (1973)
Director: Simon Nuchtern (1976)
Cinematographer: Joel Shapiro
Music: Maurice Sarli
Producer: Susumu Yoshikawa (1973)
Producer: Terry Levene (1976)
AKA: Chiba The Bodyguard, Viva Chiba
Original Title: Karate Kiba

Sometimes in this day and age it is easy to forget how videotapes, DVD and Blu-ray have changed the way we watch movies, especially coupled with the search and buying options available through the internet. As a young boy growing up in rural Australia, I had no inkling of the films of Sonny Chiba. The were certainly not given a drive-in release in my home town, and were never going to turn up on commercial television at that time.

The interesting thing here, is that if Chiba had been available to me, it most likely would not be in the format I am used to today. Now this is not intended as a product endorsement — more to illustrate the way I am used to seeing Chiba film — down under there is a company called Madman, that has an off-shoot called Eastern Eye which specialises in Asian cinema. There films are gorgeously presented in widescreen and they often plum for the original language audio, with English subtitles for their releases. There are exceptions, such as the Godzilla films where they give you the option of subs or dub. But generally they serve up pretty authentic releases, served up the way the films were originally meant to be seen. Some of their Chiba releases have included Bullet Train, Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge and two of the Yakuza Deka films. All these films look great; are hip and funky in a ’70s kind of way, and suggested a certain style in a Chiba movie — that being tough crime films with a serve of high impact martial arts.

Bodyguard8Of course there is more to the story of Chiba, and these films only whetted my appetite for more of Chiba’s unique kind of thrills. Next I tracked down a film called Satomi Hakken Den (Legend of the Eight Samurai) directed by the chameleon Kinji Fukasaku. As much as I enjoyed Satomi Hakken Den – especially the giant Muppet centipede – what intrigued me more on the disk were the trailers for other Chiba features. One of these features was G.I. Samurai and the trailer suggests it is the story of a band of modern combat soldiers, led by Chiba, who slip through a crack in time and land in the middle of a turf war between two warring clans in feudal times. My jaw dropped, and I audibly exclaimed “Hell, yeah!” This is a film I need in my life.

Next, independently, Keith at Teleport City reviewed Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope. Once again, that little voice in my head shouted “Hell, yeah — this is a film that I need in my life.” And at that point, I sadly realised I knew nothing about Chiba, and I had to dig deeper. Those pristine, widescreen prints were going to be a thing of the past. All I knew was my viewing was going to consist of murky second generation dupes, and it was going to get bloody. First stop…The Bodyguard (well almost!)

Bodyguard7Before I started watching The Bodyguard there was a not-so-subtle hint that my world of Chiba was going to change. Firstly I went to ‘special features’ on the disk and there was a teaser for Street Fighter’s Last Revenge. As I alluded to earlier, Street Fighter’s Last Revenge was a film that I had already seen on an Eastern Eye disk. I thought that it was a great little action film with an impossibly funky score. But I chose to watch the teaser, and the first thing that struck me was that it was a dub (rather than subbed, as I know the film). The smooth, modulated dialogue was no longer there. Instead Chiba was angry and shouting “Don’t anybody move or I’ll rip this motherf*cker’s head off!” I knew Terry, The Streetfighter as a tough, man-of-action, but here, he was presented as one crazy, wild-eyed, bad-ass motherf*cker. This was a man who makes Maurizio Merli, Steven Segal and Michael Dudikoff or anyone who specialised in ‘revenge flicks’ look like boy scouts.

Next I moved on to The Bodyguard and it appears to be a film released in Japan in 1973, and then reissued in America in 1976 with some extra footage and atrocious dubbing. But first things first. I know it’s no longer cool to like Quentin Tarrantino any more. I know his films are a bunch of stolen moments from other films. But I like his films – I thought Inglourious Basterds was brilliant – and I must admit it still gives me a thrill when I discover the source of another of his in-jokes. The Bodyguard provides a clue to a moment in Pulp Fiction, when Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) explains to Tim Roth, that his is the wallet that says ‘Bad Mother F*cker’. But now I see that maybe Jules wasn’t the aforementioned ‘Bad Mother F*cker’, but Sonny Chiba is. How so? The speech that Jules says to scare his intended victims, Ezekiel 17:25, is presented in the opening credits of The Bodyguard, however where Jules quotes it correctly, The Bodyguard has the cheek to modify the words.

The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the iniquity of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper, and the father of lost children. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am Chiba the Bodyguard when I shall lay my vengeance upon them!

So Jules’ speech in Pulp Fiction is a homage to the Baddest Mother F*cker of them all — Sonny Chiba! Can ya dig it!

BodyguardTCThe film opens in New York, with a scene that could be ripped off from The Godfather. An underworld Don, Salvatore Rocco and his family are gunned down on the steps outside a large church. The newspaper reports suggest the police are now searching for the Rocco’s Japanese mistress who is said to have disappeared.

Then we cut to a far to obvious, new scene that has been shoehorned into the film. It features two martial artists,Aaron Banks and Bill Louie, two real life martial arts champions, who are debating the strengths and weaknesses of Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba’s fighting styles, including a demonstration of Bruce’s double nung-chuck technique. They round out the conversation by informing the audience that Chiba is on his way back to Tokyo.

The movie skips forward to the flight and a bunch of badasses hijack the flight. They hijack it for one reason, and that’s because Sonny Chiba is on the flight. Sonny, not only is the world’s number one martial artist, but he is also a fierce opponent of drugs and drug trafficking. These goons who have taken control of the flight, want to kill Chiba because of his interference with their drug trade. But even though there are five hijackers with guns, Chiba still kills each one of them with a series of power punches that have the bad guys spitting blood and teeth – that is before they die.

Upon arrival in Japan, Chiba appears on television vowing to stop the flow of drugs into the country, and furthermore offers himself up as a bodyguard to anybody who has information that can put the drug cartels out of action. One girl, Ricoh comes forward and asks for Chiba’s assistance. Before he will help her, he needs to see some proof. She says she has some evidence in the glove box of her car. Chiba sends his sister, Maggie down stairs to collect it, but the bad guys are waiting for her. As Chiba’s sister, Maggie has some fight skills of her own, but up against four men, she is outmatched. They knock her unconscious and strip her naked and lay her out. The shadow from the cross at the top of a church steeple covers her body. It’s actually quite a good visual moment – possibly better than this film deserves. After a while, when Maggie hasn’t returned, Chiba heads down to investigate. He finds her with the words ‘Cosa Nostra’ carved into her arm. Chiba now knows for sure he is up against the mafia.

Bodyguard4Convinced that Ricoh is in danger, Chiba agrees to protect her. They go back to her apartment, and Chiba does a sweep to check that everything is okay. The apartment appears clean and free from danger. Later that night, however, a gang of assassins cut their way out of the furniture (couches and armchairs) where they have been hiding. I guess when you think about it, it is pretty goofy, but this scene represents one of the highlights of the whole movie, so I recommend basking in the ‘goofiness’. Chiba, of course, then fights with the bad guys in his usual rib shattering and arm snapping way.

Of course, as most people would have guessed, Ricoh is the ‘missing’ mistress of Salvatore Rocco (the underworld figure shot down at the start of the film). Therefore she is not really interested in stemming the flow of narcotics into Japan. She simply wants Chiba to protect her form the various gangs — the Mafia and the Yakuza — who are after her and the drug shipment she has arranged to be brought into the country.

Essentially this makes Chiba a stupid dupe and he follows her around Tokyo while she makes arrangements to unload the drugs. When he finally wakes up to what is going on, for some strange reason he still agrees to help her. It is all very silly, sloppy and contrived. Some of this may be due to the American re-editing and dubbing of the film, but I think even the original Japanese version of the film would be low hanging fruit.

Bodyguard3The amazing thing about Chiba, is no matter where he hits an opponent, you can be sure that the guy spits blood. He could punch a Yakuza gang member in the knee cap, and sure enough, the Yakuza would keel over and a bubble of thick, bright red blood would dribble over his lips. It is a unique talent that Chiba has, and a talent that generally makes his films so entertaining. Not so, The Bodyguard. Sure there’s plenty of blood spitting, even a few teeth flying, but on the whole this film is pretty muddled and uninspiring.

Visually, the camera shots are tightly focused and there is an over abundance of hand held cinematography.Some of the fight scenes are so dimly lit and jerkily edited, it is hard to tell if they are well choreographed or not. Which is what you really watch a Chiba picture for – the stylised fight scenes. But when they are stylised and filmed in such a fashioned, it renders the film physically impotent.
Co-starring with Chiba is Etsuko Shihomi, who also starred with Chiba in a whole swag of films including; The Legend of the Eight Samurai, Shogun Ninja, Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, Bullet Train, The Streetfighter, The Streetfighter’s Last Revenge, Sister Streetfighter and many others.

The Bodyguard is not great Chiba, and I think I’ll keep searching for a copy of G.I. Samurai to slake my thirst for Chiba’s unique style of mayhem, and I’d suggest that other Chibafiles look elsewhere too.

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