Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Mysteries of Myra

I love pulps. I also love cliffhanger serials. And maybe more than anything, I love behind the scenes info and history about movie and television production. As my poor suffering wife can attest, my bookshelves are jammed with reference books and guides about pulp characters, old movies, radio dramas and T.V. shows.

Enter Eric Stedman, an entrepreneur who dedicates long hours to the restoration and preservation of many cliffhanger movie serials. At The Serial Squadron you can get a taste of the massive amount of work he has put into the genre through his line of restored movie DVDs along with relevant books and audio.

One of Eric's latest projects (one of many ongoing productions) is the novelization of a lost serial from 1916. THE MYSTERIES OF MYRA is a strange brew of action, intrigue, magic, spiritualism, monsters and zombies. As Eric put it "an X-Files of 1916". Unfortunately quite possibly all prints of MYRA were lost in a warehouse fire. At least at this date it is still considered a lost serial. This is truly unfortunate as from the evidence at hand and eloquently shown in this book, MYRA may be one of the most astoundingly put together serials of the silent and talkie era. From the looks of the stills and behind the scenes photos and info, this was a lavish production with impressive sets and intriguing special effects.

The process of this production was a painstaking one, as Eric explains:
Tracy Burton ... took on the job of interpreting fuzzy microfilm versions of the newspaper serializations of the story -- virtually all of which were incomplete, damaged, or otherwise messed up, which means after her pass through it and interpretations she was able to make, it took two other guys (me and Dr. Daka) hours and hours to fill in the missing words and correct errors. Daka discovered ... that there were about 5 different versions of the text, also, which all appeared in different newspapers, with different illustrations.

Along with reconstructing the various newspaper serializations of the story into a coherent novel, Eric delved deeply into researching the production history of MYRA, which is contained in a lengthy introduction and includes many production photos and biographies of cast and crew.

So here we have it; a novel that any pulp writer would dream to write, which is based on a legendary serial that no longer exists, along with a lot of tasty background info and photos. A perfect storm of entertainment for anyone who is into pulps, serials and movie history bound into one handsome tome.

This is the sales blurb for the book, which concisely explains what it's all about:

BEWARE THE BLACK ORDER! So comes the warning from the spirit of Myra Maynard's father, who reaches out to her from beyond the grave to warn her of danger from the masters of the occult arts that lurk in the shadows and mark her for murder on her eighteenth birthday. Only the world's first psychic detective, Dr. Payson Alden, and his friend Haji the Brahman mystic, can save clairvoyant Myra from the terrors of The Grand Master of the Order, who tries to claim not only her fortune but her life by means of suicide-inducing spells, invasion of her chamber by spirit assassins, and even reanimation of the dead by a fire elemental. Originally a fifteen-episode serial shot in Ithaca, New York (before Hollywood became the center of American movie-making) in 1916, painstakingly reconstructed from the original screenplay, novelization, and existing stills. Includes background information, behind-the-scenes photos and cast biographies.

At $25 it is well worth the price of admission and I urge you to head over to the Serial Squadron and pick up a copy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The India Rubber Men

I occasionally get these ebay email alerts from certain favored sellers. One of them sells older newspaper comics that have been repackaged into books. The pesky thing about the alerts I get on this guy is that sometimes he has really odd items which get my curiosity up in a dander. I've discovered some great graphic artists and obscure comics and just recently discovered the wacky world of English fiction writer Edgar Wallace.

Though the internet is a global community and many of you dear readers may "get this" already, from an American standpoint Wallace is basically non-existent within pop-culture. Even within U. S. pulp circles he is not a common name to run across. About the only thing where his name is seen regularly in the U. S. is as the author of the novelization of the original 1933 movie King Kong. Which he didn't actually write. But that is a completely different story of which if you want to investigate, you can check it out on wikipedia.

Well back to this ebay seller alert. Recently he had an ad for a newspaper strip called "Inspector Wade, by Edgar Wallace". I recognized the author's name from Kong. Intrigued I looked "Inspector Wade" up. A google search turned up an interesting link which led to a whole bizarre world of which I previously had no knowledge. A German subgenre of crime and mystery movies known as "krimi". Apparently within the krimi genre Edgar Wallace reigned King, with 44 movies adapted from Wallace and his son's books and short stories in a 13 year period. Here are a few krimi movie links for your edification: krimi corner, Cinefear, and Kinwelt has a great listing with descriptions of the 44 Wallace Krimis.

Wallace in fact had a lot more media based on his works. For instance in the UK there was the Edgar Wallace Mysteries; theatrical shorts that eventually were turned into television episodes. For a description and list of "episodes" please check out a great article at Mystery*File.

ITV, the trailblazing "indie" UK television network created a series based on Wallaces most enduring detective J. G. Reeder, about a bookish, nerdy Gent who puts the fear of God into the gangsters and criminal underworld of London. I've checked out several episodes of this show and have found it to be highly enjoyable.

Probably one of the few U. S. adaptations of Wallace to film was the silent 1925 cliffhanger serial THE GREEN ARCHER which later got a talkie serial adaptation in 1940.

Along with the checking out the Edgar Wallace Mysteries series and J. G. Reeder series, I had to investigate these German krimis.

Were these good movies? I had to view some for myself and long story short; not completely, of the ones I sampled, it was about a 40 percent success rate. The unsuccessful entries are overlong and overcomplicated with a focus on immaterial stuff that really has nothing to do with the central plots. Maybe it's something that gets lost in translation but they essentially are beautifully shot, moody and gothic looking Noir and even horror type mysteries that suffer from poor scripts. Some are very good though, two of them being the very first in the series THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE FROG (Der Frosch mit der Maske, 1959) and a few films later the closely related THE INN ON THE RIVER (Das Gasthaus an der Themse, 1962).

THE INN ON THE RIVER is based on an Inspector Wade tale (of the above mentioned comics that originally drew my interest) called THE INDIA RUBBER MEN, described as such:

A classic Wallace, stitching together his favourite themes with enough humour and vigour to keep the reader intrigued till the very end. John Wade is the young Scotland Yard inspector, Lila Smith the beautiful orphan with a mysterious past. There is a a criminal mastermind, a long-standing gang of jewel thieves -- the India-Rubber Men, who wear gasmasks and rubber gloves, and carry gas bombs to stave off pursuit -- and a smattering of Chinese bandits and American mobsters. Through it all runs the Thames, and there is even time for a little excursion out of London to its upper reaches in Oxfordshire. The mixture as before,expertly blended. (description quoted from "Jon" at The Golden Age of Detective Fiction)

After reading a review of THE INDIA RUBBER MEN (again at Mystery*File) which did not give a sterling impression of the book, I still felt that maybe it would be worth a read. Or in this case, a listen. So it is our newest entry into the world of the digital pulp reader.

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