Monday, December 26, 2011

Pulp Perusals #5: What Hollywood Can Learn From the Pulps.

Movies for free. – Sounds good doesn’t it? When I first started out posting my various ramblings on the Internet back in the day, with dial-up modems and via providers such as CompuServe, AOL, and Bulletin Boards, I often would write quick reviews of various movies I’d been to see--a habit that eventually led to me actually doing movie reviews for honest-to-goodness websites. These days I write the occasional review over at RevolutionSF. I am lucky enough to get invited to advance press screenings for various movies, often seeing them anything from a few days to several weeks before they are on general release.

In the week before I sat down to write this column I got to see advance screenings of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and The Adventures of Tintin. The first two had something in common over the third, and it's not just the use of the colon in the movie title. Simply put, they were both action packed and engaging. While Tinitin (at least to me and everyone else in the party I was with) managed to be action packed, yet boring. (As an aside, the worst review I can ever give a movie is that it was “boring” – at least “dislike” shows that the movie evoked some emotional response.)

My reaction to these three movies got me thinking about what Hollywood can learn from the Pulps. You see I think the Tintin movie was indicative of what is wrong with too many action movies these days – that they have become too enamored of the big set-piece action scenes. Instead of drawing the viewers in emotionally they just want to dazzle them with noise, movement, and flashing lights. The action scenes go on too long, and do nothing to either inform character or drive the plot forward.

While I didn’t enjoy the Tintin movie, I was lucky enough to be at the movies with a great bunch of people, including SF writer Michael Moorcock. Before the movie started we were discussing the recent Robert Downey screen incarnation of Holmes and that while the movies were fun, they weren’t really Holmes as we know him. Mr. Moorcock mentioned that he tends to view the new Holmes movies as Sexton Blake movies – and that’s a substitution that works for me.

The best new action movies take the structure and tropes of the best pulp adventures and transfer them to the screen. To quote from Tommy Hancock’s introduction to this very website, pulp is “the simplistic, yet layered storytelling, the one-two punch of the dialogue and the action, and the over the top antics, characters, and resolutions that made readers believe in the amazing, the fantastic, and the incredible.”

That sounds to me like the recipe for the perfect Hollywood action blockbuster – just like Mission Impossible 4 turned out to be.

I just wanted to end this month on a note of thanks to Mike Bullock for inviting me to join the New Pulp family this year. It’s been a great 2011, and I look forward to enjoying a fantastic 2012 with everyone.

Thanks for reading and have a great New Year.

And to wrap up, here’s the next part of NAMELESS HERE FOR EVERMORE by Rick Klaw, and myself, featuring The Raven.

For those who came in late…

Part 1 -
Part 2 -
Part 3 -


(Part Four)
By Alan J. Porter & Rick Klaw


Lala Ward paced impatiently up and down the sidewalk outside her apartment building.

“Are you OK, Miss Ward?” inquired the building’s doorman.

“I’m fine, thank you, Fred. I'm waiting for someone, and he's late.”

“If you don’t mind me saying so, Miss Ward, your young man is always very punctual, I hope he hasn’t met with an accident.”

Too late for that, through Lala. “This is someone else.”

“Oh,” said Fred.

A large red Dusenberg pulled up to the sidewalk with a squeal of brakes and a blast from a dual tone horn. Raymond Vandemeer vaulted over the car’s door and alighted next to her. “Ready to go, princess.”

“Yes, and don’t call me princess.”

“But my sweet damsel, you know that I am always ready to be your shining knight.”

“Stop it, Raymond. I like you, and you can be fun to be around, but you're not...”

Vandeemer looked deep into Lala’s eyes. As he spoke his voice seemed to drop an octave, and his sparkling blue eyes took on an almost steely hue. “He’s not here any more. Is he?”

“What?” The crassness of his statement stunned her. But when she looked at him again, that steely look vanished and the same affable Raymond stood before her.

“What? What? Dear heart?”

“What you just said, it wasn’t very nice.”

“You wound me, for I offered to be your shining knight, and now you spurn my overtures.”

“No, the other thing you said.”

“I didn’t say anything else,” Raymond looked puzzled, “did I?”

With a shrug of the shoulders, Vandemeer led Lala to the passenger side of his waiting car, and held the door open for her. He sprinted around to the driver’s side, once more vaulted over the door, settled into his seat, engaged the clutch, and pulled out into the traffic streaming down Madison Avenue without even a glance in the mirror, confident that people would get out of his way. After all, they always did.

As they sped through the city, Lala wondered if she imagined it. Raymond behaved as if nothing untoward happened. He was not a terribly good liar—she remembered the time at the Tavern when he spilled her drink after she excused herself for the restroom. He clumsily tried to cover it up with some improbable excuse involving the waiter, a drunk, and Mayor La Guardia. She immediately saw through that ruse—Lala decided to believe Raymond. She must have misheard.

After a few minutes, Lala spoke up. “Where are we going Raymond? I thought we were going for dinner at the Tavern, but we are heading uptown.”

“Don’t worry sweet thing, we are still going out for dinner, but first we are stopping off to see that nice police Captain. He says he has some information about your actor friend.”


Malone looked up from his desk, surprised to see the elegantly dressed Raymond Vandemeer and Lala Ward eyeing at him expectantly. “And what can I be doing for you fine folks this fine afternoon?”

“Raymond says you have news about Edwin.”

“Edwin?” Malone was momentarily puzzled. “Oh, you must mean Edward Sparrow, your actor friend?
Frustrated, Lala corrected the Captain. “No, his name was Edwin Wilkes.”

“I think you better sit yourself down, Miss Ward.” After making his offer, Malone noticed the only available chair, other than his, piled high with a mix of old case files, discarded brown lunch bags, and other assorted detritus. Before he made a move to clear it, Vandemeer swept the pile up and managed to place it in an unoccupied corner of the floor with a single fluid movement, seemingly displacing not even a single donut box. Flourishing a large silk handkerchief, Vandemeer finished the chivalrous concerto by flicking the accumulated dust off the seat. Show off, thought Malone.

Lala took the cleaned seat, pulling it forward until her knees almost touched the front of Malone’s desk. She leaned forward in anticipation.

“Well Miss, It seems that your boyfriend was using the stage name Edwin Wilkes while here in the United States, but his real name was in fact Edward Sparrow, and he appeared to be a British citizen. In fact he is not just a Brit, he was one of their spies.”

“A British spy!” Lala exclaimed, “That’s ridiculous, why would the British have spies here? Aren't we friends?”

“Ah we keep an eye on them, they do no harm to us. They're mainly here to counteract the few Nazi spies running around, and those who would promote the fascist cause in the US.”

“Ah you mean cove’s like that Lindenburgh chappie,” interjected Vandemeer,”Once a national hero and now shilling for that horrible Hitler and his goose-stepping thugs. Disgraceful.”

“Exactly,” came Malone's terse response.

“But what’s this got to do with Edwin, or Edward?” asked Lala.

Malone continued, “It seems he was using his cover as both an actor and a master of disguise to travel around the country, you know, touring, et cetera—as a way to uncover Nazi plots and expose fascist sympathizers. What ‘appened the other night appears to be connected to his clandestine activities.”

After sitting in stunned silence for several minutes, Lala sputtered, “He and I, well we were…. You know… and he never gave the slightest sign... You know... a double life. I don’t believe it. He was just an actor... a good one. But not a spy.”

“Spies don’t wear badges, my dear,” Vandemeer cooed in something that Malone assumed was meant to be an attempt at a soothing voice, “at least I don’t think they do, I’ve never met one. Well at least I don’t think I have, and if I had how would have known. Of course, except for Edwin, and I didn’t know, and neither did you. After all what better person to be a spy than someone who lies and tells stories for a living?”
“Have you quite finished?” Lala flashed Vandemeer a withering look.

“I don't like to admit it, but Mr. Vandemeer has a point, Miss Ward. An actor would make for a perfect spy.“ He slid the British Security Council folder across the table. “I’m afraid it’s all true. See for yourself.”

Lala flipped through the enclosed papers. She didn’t read them, she didn’t really need to. She could tell from the look and just a few brief glances that they corroborated Malone’s story. She returned the folder with a deep sad sigh. “So you think that the Nazis got to him?”

“Not directly,” said Malone, “for sure, they can be arrogant, but from what we've seen in the past they don’t like to get their hands dirty. They like to deal through intermediaries.” Malone paused.

“Yes?” said Lala, waiting for the inevitable pronouncement.

“I... " Malone paused, he took on a more official tone. "We believe that at the request of various Nazi sympathizers, your friend, Mr. Sparrow, may currently be in the hands of a local felon known only as The Boss.”

A peel of laughter rippled through the small office. Lala spun and stared in astonishment at the laughing Vandemeer. “What’s so goddam funny, Raymond?”

“The Boss? He’s an urban myth. Put out by the authorities as a convenient peg to hang unsolved cases on, no offense Captain Malone. Just like that Raven chap is a newspaper story to cover up the actions of overzealous law enforcement officials. Next you’ll be taking those reports of a group of super-folks seriously. What do the press call them, The Alliance, or some such nonsense?”

“I think you should be leaving now, Mr. Vandemeer.” Malone’s icy voice declared. He rose and looked on the verge of bodily throwing the preening socialite out of his office.

“I am sorry if my remarks upset you Captain, we’ll be on our way. After all, we have a dinner reservation to keep.”

Lala Ward stood up and turned to go. Malone noted that she once again refused the offer of Vandemeer’s arm, brushed past him and headed across the squad room making for the hallway door without so much as a backward glance at her companion. Vandemeer turned and shrugged his shoulders at Malone as if to silently say “women!”, in a futile attempt at male bonding.

As the playboy turned to leave, Malone spoke up. “Just a second Mr. Vandemeer, when you arrived Miss Ward said that you'd told her I had information about her boyfriend.”


“Now, how would you be knowing that?” asked Malone.

“If I recall things correctly Captain Malone, you called me yourself.”

“No I didn’t. As a matter of fact I hadn’t told anyone about that file. The only other person who knew its contents was the person who left it on my desk last night.”

“Well, that’s curious,” said Vandemeer ignoring Malone’s assumptive accusation, “I could have sworn you called me. Must be off, can’t keep the lady waiting. See you around Captain.”

“Indeed,” muttered Malone as he watched the man weave his way between the desks of the squad room, skillfully side stepping between the jostling crowds. The detective marveled at the seeming buffoon's grace.

When Vandemeer disappeared into the outer hallway, Malone retreated to his office, and closed the door behind him. Smiling in satisfaction, he sat behind his desk and picked up the phone. Once the station operator connected him to a private number, he spoke one simple sentence. “The bird has taken the bait.”


1 comment:

  1. I am increasingly glad that I skipped the new Tintin movie. All the previews did was make me want to grab the original comics from my shelf and re-read them, just to forget what I'd seen. And it sounds like they were an accurate reflection of the film.


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