Movies and Books

THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985) (which I mentioned earlier this week) is Woody Allen’s delightful movie tribute in which Mia Farrow’s devoted viewing of the eponymous comedy causes Jeff Daniels to jump off the screen (“Tom Baxter—poet, explorer, of the Chicago Baxters.”) and into her heart, creating a mass panic back at the studio (“Four other Tom Baxters have attempted to leave the screen in other movie houses!”) while confounding abusive husband Danny Aiello, hooker Dianne Wiest and baffled movie characters including Ed Hermann and Van Johnson. An outstanding film—though I do think a eucatastrophe would have worked better at the finish. “So would you play Charles Lindbergh the same way you played Tom Baxter?”
DRUMS OF FU MANCHU (1940) adapts Sax Rohmer’s Mask of Fu Manchu for a 15-chapter serial in which Nayland Smith and his friends try to thwart Fu Manchu’s quest for a McGuffin that will inspire all of Asia to flock to his standard and overthrow the British Empire. This is much better than the 1932 Boris Karloff adaptation of Mask (Fu Manchu is the honorable foe of the books rather than just a leering sadist) and has one outstanding cliffhanger (Fu Manchu walks past his newly unconscious adversaries) though a couple of clinkers too (after a plane crash, the pilot simply walks out unharmed). Overall great fun—unfortunately all the Asian roles are yellowface (except Philip Ahn as a Chinese scholar) and this is way too keen on the White Man’s Burden: the goal is not to free the natives as much as to keep them happy under British rule. Still, I liked it. “You are undoubtedly familiar with the excellent writings of Edgar Allan Poe?”

QUEST OF THE SPIDER was Lester Dent’s third Doc Savage novel, in which Doc travels south to help a Louisiana lumber man fight off the scheme by the mysterious Grey Spider to take over and loot the timber industry. Mundane, but still packed with action; this introduces Doc’s anesthetic bombs (gas-filled glass globes), names his secret lab as the Fortress of Solitude (yep, he had it before Superman) and gives more detail on his private “crime college” (specifically that it cures crime through brain surgery). Fun.
THE POLAR TREASURE is a weak Doc Savage novel in which mysterious attacks on a blind violinist draw Doc and his team into a hunt for a sunken liner holding a fortune in treasure and fought over by to gangs of pirates. The villains here are way too mundane—I suspect my vivid memory of the more Sf adventures makes me blot out more routine ones such as this. Weak (like At the Mountains of Madness, it may have worked better back when polar exploration was cutting edge); this adds one new element to Doc’s arsenal (thimbles with drug-tipped needles on them) though it didn’t catch on the way the glass balls did.
The second NEW WORLDS OF FANTASY is another good collection of Big Names (Zelazny, Sheckley, Bloch, Borges), middling names (Katherine MacLean,RA Lafferty) and largely forgotten names (Britt Schweitzer, Wilmar Shiras). A very good collection regardless, as man’s head tries to climb back on its body, a mechanic learns cars can be evil (Keith Robers “Scarlet Lady” beats Christine all to heck), a man ponders his infinite library and Lazarus scares everyone by coming back from the dead. A pleasure to reread.

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12 responses to “Movies and Books

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