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I’ve never met Pierre V. Comtois, yet I think it would be fascinating to come face to face with a man who not only shares several of my obsessions, but also channels them into concrete form much more successfully than I do.  For example, he is the author of Marvel Comics in the 1960s and …1970s, which have been on my to-read list for an embarrassingly long time; both their presence and their duration on that metaphoric list are directly related to how completely my efforts on behalf of Marvel University have come to consume my life.  It is, however, his work under another of his many hats that led to this long-overdue post, namely as the editor and publisher of Fungi #21, the special 30th-anniversary issue of “The Magazine of Fantasy and Weird Fiction,” about which you can read much more on Pierre’s website here.

Dedicated to the late Richard Matheson—a name you may have encountered once or twice on this blog—the issue is literally as large as a phone book (for those of you old enough to remember what that was), making it impossible even to come close to doing justice to it in this post, so I hope I may be forgiven for taking a BOF-centric approach.  Knowing that Pierre planned a special section devoted to “The Group,” the circle of authors and screenwriters to which Matheson belonged, I granted him the use of the profiles I had partly distilled several years ago from my 1990s interviews with fellow members George Clayton Johnson, William F. Nolan, and the late Jerry Sohl.  Among other related goodies, he also re-presents “The House of Matheson,” an appreciation written by Gauntlet publisher Barry Hoffman for The Richard Matheson Companion (which I edited with Stanley Wiater and Paul Stuve), and Group scholar Christopher Conlon’s commendable overview, “Southern California Sorcerers,” another of the informal group’s many names.

Obviously, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and the roster of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and artwork on display is mind-boggling indeed.  Included are the original stories that were adapted into two Twilight Zone episodes (Charles Beaumont’s “Elegy” and Lynn Venable’s “Time Enough at Last”) and the film Target Earth (Paul W. Fairman’s “Deadly City”).  Other names that jumped out at me from the table of contents as subjects and/or contributors:  Robert Bloch (represented by an interview, as is Zone writer Earl Hamner), H.P. Lovecraft (with an introduction to his letters), Nolan himself (the story “Small World”), Fu Manchu creator Sax Rohmer, and even Thongor of Lemuria (in a new adventure by Robert Price).

Okay, I’ll shut the hell up now so you can go and order the thing!

Canned Ham

In the unlikely event that you’ve ever wondered about the voice matching the face above, you need do so no longer.  Knowing of my high-school and collegiate stage experience, not to mention my general hamminess, my boss asked me if I would be willing to lend my dulcet tones to this two-minute promotional video for our sister division, the Easton Press.  It was a fun but surprisingly involved experience, which required breaking the brief script down into tiny sections that were recorded over and over until I got my inflections just the way they wanted…although I still disagree with their direction of the last line.  Just as Madame BOF predicted, surprisingly few of my friends and family recognized my voice when I experimentally sent it to them “cold.”

I am painfully aware of, and grimly resigned to, the fact that many of those among my friends and heavily Teutonic extended family are reflexive Francophobes.  But I would urge even those who are, and especially those who are not, if they are any true lovers of the cinema, to tune in to Turner Classic Movies this month for the second installment of their excellent new Friday Night Spotlight series, starting at 8:00 PM ET.  They’re featuring the work of François Truffaut, one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, the former Cahiers du Cinéma critic who spearheaded the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) as the writer-director of The 400 Blows (1959) and the co-writer of the dreaded Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960).

TCM is showing all but two of the 21 features Truffaut directed, and if you do yourself a favor by dipping liberally into his oeuvre, you may find it more diverse than expected.  That’s the experience I had several years ago when frantically attending as much as I could of the comprehensive “Tout Truffaut” festival at New York’s Film Forum (which now won’t even deign to send me a printed schedule, and thus will no longer receive my longtime financial support, but that’s another rant).  Twenty-one features is a sadly small number for such a giant talent, and bespeaks both his criminally short life—he died at 52—and his productivity, averaging almost a film a year through Confidentially Yours (1983).

By way of encouragement, I’m taking the unusual step of enumerating TCM’s entire Truffaut schedule, and while it is beyond the scope of this post to editorialize on every film, I hope it will at least give you some idea of his impressive range.

They kick off on 7/5 with back-to-back showings of his semi-autobiographical Antoine Doinel series, in which we watch Jean-Pierre Léaud age 20 years as his alter ego.  Succeeding The 400 Blows are Antoine and Colette (a short that represents Truffaut’s contribution to the 1962 anthology film Love at Twenty), Stolen Kisses (1968, my personal favorite among his work), Bed and Board (1970), and Love on the Run (1979, both a continuation and a recap of the series, inspired by a marathon showing of the prior entries).  These are followed by the lesser-known but fascinating The Green Room (1978, inexplicably retitled The Vanishing Fiancee), a Henry James adaptation and one of several films in which Truffaut also acts, in which capacity he is best known to American audiences for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

On 7/12, they focus on Truffaut’s noir adaptations, most notably those of Cornell Woolrich (aka William Irish):  The Bride Wore Black (1968), featuring Jeanne Moreau and a score by Hitchcock mainstay Bernard Herrmann, and Mississippi Mermaid (1969), with Breathless star Jean-Paul Belmondo (feh) and Catherine Deneuve, which—like the steamy Banderas/Jolie remake, Original Sin (2001)—was based on Waltz into Darkness.  In between they’re showing his swan song, Confidentially Yours, a black-and-white homage to Hitchcockian romantic thrillers, based on a book by Charles Williams; it stars Fanny Ardant, who gave birth to Truffaut’s daughter Joséphine about a year before he died, and French legend Jean-Louis Trintignant (’nuff said).  Topping it off are Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (1972), a black comedy from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? author Henry Farrell, and his sophomore feature, Shoot the Piano Player (1960), which has celebrated signer Charles Aznavour in the title role and did double duty during last month’s Friday Night Spotlight segment devoted to noir author David Goodis.

TCM provides a mixed bag on 7/19, starting off with The Soft Skin (1964), a tale of adultery featuring Deneuve’s ill-fated elder sister, Françoise Dorléac, and two adaptations of books by Henri-Pierre Roché, both about romantic triangles:  Jules and Jim (1962), starring Oskar Werner and Moreau, and Two English Girls (1971), also with Léaud.  Next is a real rarity, A Story of Water (1961), a short co-directed with Godard, whose work—excepting Alphaville (1965)—I normally loathe; I have yet to see that or the next offering, The Woman Next Door (1981), with Gérard Depardieu and Ardant as dangerously obsessive lovers.  Finally, The Man Who Loved Women (1977) is one of my least favorite Truffaut films, a situation doubtless exacerbated by the reflected shame of the head-scratching eponymous 1983 Blake Edwards/Burt Reynolds/Julie Andrews/Kim Basinger remake.

Ending on a generally high note, 7/26 opens with Day for Night (1973), Truffaut’s love letter to filmmaking itself, in which he really stretches his range by playing a director, joined by Jacqueline Bisset and Léaud.  I’ve been slow to warm up to The Last Metro (1980), a tale of refugees and the Resistance during the Nazi occupation that stars Deneuve and Depardieu, but I loved The Wild Child (1970), the true story of a late-18th-century doctor (Truffaut) who tries to educate a boy raised by wolves.  As a perfect capstone, Isabelle Adjani—so luminous in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979)—impressively portrays the mental deterioration of Victor Hugo’s daughter in The Story of Adele H (1975)…which, oddly, is not the only film in which we see Adjani go spectacularly mad, e.g., Possession (1981).

The two films not being shown are, fortuitously, both in the Bradley Video Library:  Fahrenheit 451 (1966), his love-it-or-hate-it adaptation of the late Ray Bradbury’s classic SF novel, featuring Werner, Julie Christie in a dual role, and another Herrmann score, and Small Change (1976), a largely improvised composite character study of the children in a small French town, played by non-actors, which is better than it sounds (at least to me).  Meanwhile, inspired by this outpouring of Truffaut-Amour, I’m doing something long overdue, dusting off some of the tapes I made when TCM devoted a similarly thorough marathon to Akira Kurosawa to honor his centennial back in 2010.  In this, at least, Madame BOF is my eager co-pilot, and we’ve already traveled back to the beginnings of his directorial career with The Most Beautiful (1944) and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945); on deck at the moment are my first viewings of Sanshiro Sugata Part Two (1945) and No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), plus One Wonderful Sunday (1947).

Addendum:  Film Forum did finally send me a printed schedule.  “Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles…”

Bradley out.

King Richard

Richard Matheson died on Sunday, June 23, at the age of 87, leaving behind a lovely wife of 60 years, three generations of literal descendants in the family that was always his greatest pride and joy (e.g., the three successful writers he sired), and at least as many metaphoric ones among the creators consciously or unconsciously affected by his incalculably influential 63-year career.  We were never as close as I would have liked, and he hadn’t responded to my attempts to reach him over the past year, so I intuited that something was up.  Yet he had nothing but kind words to say about my many efforts on his behalf, and the hundreds of pages I have written about the man and his work speak for themselves.  He will be sorely missed.

Cat Scratch Fever

What I’ve Been Watching: Track of the Cat (1954).

Who’s Responsible: William A. Wellman (director), A.I. Bezzerides (screenplay), Robert Mitchum, Teresa Wright, and Diana Lynn (stars).

Why I Watched It: Mitchum.

Seen It Before? No, thank God.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 1.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 2.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 2.

And? I thought I might have seen this one before, but I realize now that I was mixing it up with Mitchum’s later Home from the Hill (1960)—in which he appeared with a young George Hamilton, rather than a young Tab Hunter here—because if I’d seen this before, it would have been burned into my memory. Of course, it does Wellman no favors that Encore Westerns squeezed his CinemaScope opus into a pan-and-scan format, but I still expect more from the director whose credits include the winner of the de facto first Best Picture Oscar for Wings (1927). And while I can’t speak for Walter Van Tilburg Clark, on whose work this was based (ditto Wellman’s 1943 classic The Ox-Bow Incident), I do know Bezzerides as the author and/or a screenwriter of Bogart faves They Drive by Night (1940) and Action in the North Atlantic (1943), plus the immortal Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

How do I hate this film? Let me count the ways. Start with the supremely dysfunctional family at its heart. The patriarch (Philip Tonge), if you want to call him that, serves no useful purpose whatsoever, doing nothing but drink and bloviate, so it’s no surprise that the true head of the family has become son Curt (Mitchum), who lords it over brothers Arthur (William Hopper) and Harold (Hunter) and sister Grace (Wright), abetted by the sanctimonious Ma (Beulah Bondi). Remember what a horrible old bat the “alternate-universe” Bondi was in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)? Now imagine that squinty-eyed performance stretched out over an entire film. Art endures with sarcasm as his shield, while Hal spends most of the movie walking around with an expression on his face that I can only describe as looking like he’s just been sodomized, hoping to achieve manhood.

Hal, you see, wants to strike out on his own, claiming his share of the family fortune and getting hitched to Gwen Williams (Lynn), currently the world’s least comfortable house guest at the Bridges ranch, which is ostensibly located near Aspen c. 1897, but I’ll turn in my BOF credentials if it isn’t firmly planted on a soundstage. The exteriors were shot on Mount Rainier, Washington, and according to Wikipedia, “Mitchum regarded shooting in the deep snow and cold as the worst filming conditions he had ever experienced”; no big surprise to the viewer, since his character is relentlessly obnoxious. Skulking around the edges of this train-wreck clan to complete the eight-person cast is an apparently mystical Indian, Joe Sam, a kind of eminence rouge played by Carl Switzer (yes, Alfalfa, about as far from IAWL as you can get), unrecognizable—so why cast him?—in old-age makeup.

The “cat”-alyst (forgive me) for change in this long-stagnant household is the threat to its cattle by the titular panther, the subject of the worst of the film’s numbingly repetitious dialogue. If you played a drinking game in which everybody took a shot each time they talked about what a nice blanket the pelt would make, or the various scenarios dependent on the color of its fur, the entire audience would be dead of alcohol poisoning before the end of the first reel. Arthur being the most normal offspring, he is of course killed off by the unseen cat in a shockingly amateurish scene, leaving Mitchum (whose own interest in Lynn is implied as subtly as this film ever gets) to emote to himself on his solo quest for revenge, which turns into a poor man’s “To Build a Fire,” and as the rest of the Bridges Bunch frets over his lengthy absence, things take their inevitable course; you do the math.

When Carmine Infantino worked for Marvel in the late 1970s, penciling extended runs of Nova, Spider-Woman, and Star Wars, he was frankly one of my least favorite artists, yet I am the first to admit that his contribution to the comic-book industry, without which there might never have been a Fantastic Four or a Marvel Comics as we know it, cannot be overstated.  In 1956, he and writer Robert Kanigher were given six months to turn around the fortunes of the Flash, and their revamped version (which debuted in Showcase #4 and played to Infantino’s flair for fast-paced, dynamic action) is now considered the start of the post-Wertham Silver-Age revival of the super-hero genre.  Difficult though it may be to believe today, Batman was in similar straits by 1964, and Infantino—who later rose through DC’s ranks as art director, editorial director, and publisher—worked with writer John Broome to create the character’s “new look,” which inspired the successful but divisive live-action TV series.

Margalit Fox’s New York Times obituary also credits Infantino with luring Jack Kirby away from Marvel, “a coup akin to the Yankees’ acquisition of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox,” so you could even say he was indirectly responsible for my beloved Bronze Age…

First and foremost, I want to apologize, especially to any new or occasional readers, for the dearth of new content on this blog in recent months.  Regular readers probably know it already, but there are two main reasons:  1) My selfish preference for a roof over my head and regular meals keeps me devoted to my day job, and 2) The limited time that leaves for blogging has increasingly been channeled into Marvel University.  I’m not saying it’s all about the numbers…but on a good day, the readership at MU is about five times that of BOF, so it seems silly not to reach the larger one.  I completely understand if those with a less-than-obsessive interest in my blather and/or Marvel Comics choose not to wade through our weekly analysis of a month’s worth of their Bronze-Age output, but I also write some stand-alone articles, the most recent and accessible of which is this.

In terms of actual news, uppermost in my mind is the fact that my daughter, Alexandra—whose own writing has occasionally graced this blog to a warm response—has the lead role in a movie!  Okay, yes, it’s a little indie short (shot in Frederick, Maryland) called My Second First Step that is still in post-production, and I have no idea how or when it will become accessible to the great unwashed masses.  In fact, you may be in a position to affect that outcome, since the filmmakers have launched a campaign on Kickstarter to raise money for post-production and the shooting of the companion piece, inadequate, in which her character will have a cameo.  The clock is ticking on this one, alas; if they don’t receive pledges for the required $4,000 by Saturday, April 13, then the fundraising effort collapses (but not the films).  Check out the infectiously scored teaser here.

With no books or articles to research, I’ve been a little less aggressive about Matheson news, but MGM—having rescued the rights from Eddie Murphy Development Hell at Universal—is going to be doing a remake of The Incredible Shrinking Man, written by Richard and his son R.C. (or, as they put it, “Richard Matheson Jr.”), who will co-produce as part of the Matheson Entertainment deal.  Richard says the story is still relevant and calls it an “existential action movie.”  My response to such things, especially with this long-in-limbo property, is usually to yawn and say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  But if nothing else, this project has been getting lots of ink; I’ve gotten dozens of hits on my Matheson Google Alert.  So it’s great to see some attention being paid, and great to think that Richard will be back in the screenwriting saddle again…IF it happens.  Fingers crossed.

I’ve been trying to keep my hand in on the print side of things, and I am proud to report that the conclusion of my two-part article on 007’s nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, is in the current issue of Cinema Retro (Vol. 9 #25; Winter 2013); meanwhile, the good folks at Filmfax were generous enough to stretch my reprinted interview with the late Ray Bradbury over three issues, ending in #133 (Spring 2013).  And, proving that I still occasionally go to current films, I saw and enjoyed Skyfall, Django Unchained, Lincoln, and part one of The Hobbit with various family members.  I missed the Bond tribute from this year’s Oscars, but saw most of the major awards, and found it interesting that no film(s) made a major sweep this year; I was surprised that Spielberg didn’t get Best Director, yet felt that if Lincoln were going to receive one major award, it got the right one.

Last, but far from least, I would like to stress that even if new posts are few and far between for the immediate future, this blog can still serve as a good source of information and entertainment.  I may be taking concrete steps to make it more user-friendly in that respect in the days ahead, yet even now, for example, clicking on the B100 tab at the top of the page not only takes you to my list of favorite films (“Bradley’s Hundred”), but also gives you links to capsule reviews of each film.  And aside from the obvious subjects such as Matheson, Bond, and Marvel, you can search the site for various…

  • stars (Humphrey Bogart, Clint Eastwood, Ingrid Pitt)
  • studios (AIP, Amicus, Hammer, Toho, Universal)
  • filmmakers (Jack Arnold, Mario Bava, Roger Corman, Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis, John Frankenheimer, Ray Harryhausen, Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa)
  • writers (Charles Beaumont, Robert Bloch, Bradbury, Raymond Chandler, George Clayton Johnson, Nigel Kneale, Elmore Leonard, William F. Nolan, Jerry Sohl, Elleston Trevor [aka Adam Hall])

So dip in, click away, and see what suits your fancy; see you on campus!

Bradley out.

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