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Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Book Review: The Return of Little Big Man by Thomas Berger

After recently reading and loving the novel, Little Big Man I had to dive straight into the sequel, which was originally published back in 1999 - It turns out that Jack Crabb faked his death at the end of the Little Big Man novel in order to get rid of that pesky journalist, and now he's back, at 112 years of age to narrate the rest of his story into one of those new tape recording machines. And the book, like its predecessor is an absolute delight.

"I had had my own grievance against Custer, whose attack on the Cheyenne camp on the Washita, years earlier, had resulted in the loss of my Indian wife and child, and thought for a while I'd kill him if I could, but I never got the chance, and now that somebody had done it with no help from me, I both lacked a feeling of satisfaction and a sense of purpose as to what I'd do with the rest of my life."
-- from the first chapter of 'The Return of Little Big Man'

Narrated of course in the first person; a chatty style as if Crabb is narrating his story onto tape for future generations, and the end of this one is absolutely excellent and both definitively finishes the story, while somehow leaving it open for yet another volume. Though with the author having died, Patrick Bergar that is not Jack Crabb at the young age of 89 back in 2014 it seems that the story is now over.

Once again Jack is as hand to witness historic events in the old West - Hickock's murder, of which Crabb sees himself as responsible, the gunfight at,, or rather close to the OK Corral and the murder of his good friend Sitting Bull by reservation police in 1890. He's also at hand when Queen Victoria comes out of a quarter of a century mourning to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West Circus, of which Jack is a part. Other historical figures come in and out of the book - Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, Bat Masterton and Libby Custer to name but a few.

I loved this book and found it even better than Little Big Man - this time Jack's wanderings take him over a far larger canvas and the comedy is far broader, though never slapstick and always believable. For instance once scene in which Jack buries his beloved dog, Pard is absolutely heartbreaking but suddenly becomes insanely hilarious when the dog, very much alive and having dug itself out of its early grave, comes padding up to him. I won't give away the details of this scene but I will say that it works so well that, I think I shed a tear at the death of the pouch. I know I laughed out loud when it was revealed that he hadn't been dead  but......well, I won't give it away but will say that Pard doesn't seem to harbour any ill feelings to his adopted master for having prematurely buried him.

There are so many other highlights in this superbly crafted story - I've only ever read two Bergers books, this one and the volume that came before, but he seems to me as a kind of Mark Twain for the modern age. I guess I'm going to have to check out his other books.



Monday, 24 September 2018

Vintage Western Review: The Lonely Man 1957

Directed by Henry Levin.
Paramount Pictures.
Main Cast: Jack Palance, Anthony Perkins,Neville Brand, Robert Middleton, Lee Van Cleef.
Black and white
88 minutes
Original Release Nov 10 1957

Early hours of the morning, and I'm lounging on the sofa, my pipe filled with a Virginia/Perique mixture, a glass filled with a creamy porter from Brains, and I'm just flicking through the TV channels, so many of them with nothing to watch when I stumbled on this western, which I don't think I've seen before, on Netflix.

It was odd seeing Jack Palance in a role such as this -  he was usually cast as the bad guy, playing the part in some memorable westerns including of course Shane, but here he's the leading man. Technically, he's a bad guy but he's determined to go leave his life as a gunslinger behind him at the outset of this movie and provide a life for his son, Riley (Anthony Perkins).

The plot is quite simple - Gunslinger, Jake Wade (Palance) rides into save his long abandoned son Riley (Anthony Perkins) and provide him with some kind of future after the death of the boy's mother. The son though hates his father, is totally fixated on his dead mother and acts like a petulant child - seems that even then Anthony Perkins had cornered the market on playing dead mother fixated young men. Though Perkins doesn't display this by dressing up as his late mother and running around with  a carving knife, but instead refuses to accept anything from his father. The pair end up torching the family home and moving out together - at the first town they try to settle in they are moved on because of Jake's gunslinger past, and so they go to the home of Ada (Elaine Aiken), a women who looks wonderful in a pair of blue jeans. The woman's in love with Jake but all he can think of is providing some kind of future for his son.

Jake: What do you do for a living?
Riley: Nothing...I get along.


Soon the ;past catches up with Jake, in the shape of enemies from the past and it is revealed that Jake is going blind - what good's a blind gunfighter?


I'm surprised this movie is not better known - I pretty much have a good knowledge of western movies, and I can't say I'd ever heard of this one. It doesn't follow the standard structure of such movies, and the performances are quite excellent. It was also filmed in Vistavision which gives a clarity to the black and white images, unusual in itself since most Vistavision pictures were filmed in colour. The scenes in which Palance and his small band try and round up the wild horses are breathtakingly filmed, and look quite beautiful, and the inevitable final showdown is brilliantly staged. The female lead played by Elaine Aiken in her debut performance, and I don't think I've ever seen a woman fill a pair of jeans so well, but incredibly she didn't go onto have much of an acting career though did become one of the leading acting teachers at the Strasberg Theatre Institute. She is brilliant here and pulls of the part of a women torn between father and son with gusto.


You can't beat a good western - I've always said that, it's my favourite genre, And I really enjoyed this movie. Tonally, I found it not dissimilar to the Anthony Mann westerns of the same period and Palance and Perkins are both excellent, as are the rest of the cast.


Saturday, 22 September 2018

Buffalo Bill and the Myth of the Wild West

Wild painted Red Indians from America, on their wild bare backed horses, of different tribes—cowboys, Mexicans &c., all came tearing around at full speed, shrieking and screaming, which had the weirdest effect. An attack on a coach & on a ranch, with an immense deal of firing, was most exciting, so was the buffalo hunt & the bucking ponies. . . .The cowboys are fine looking people, but the painted Indians, with their feathers and wild dress (very little of it) were rather alarming looking & they have cruel faces. . . .Col. Cody, ‘Buffalo Bill’ as he is called, from having killed 3000 buffaloes, with his own hand, is a splendid man, handsome and gentlemanlike in manner. He has had many encounters & hand to hand fights with the Red Indians. Their war dances, to a wild drum and pipe, was quite fearful, with all their contorsions [sic] and shrieks, & they come so close.  Queen Victoria describing the thrill of seeing the Wild West show.

Queen Victoria attended twice and at the first performance, the Queen bowed when a cowboy rode into the ring holding an American flag - highly symbolic given that this was the first time since the War of Independence that a British ruler had honoured the stars and stripes.
Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill

The highlight of the Wild West Show was a re-enactment of Custer's Last Stand, though some sources claim that Buffalo Bill played Custer in the show, others state that the part of Custer was played by various performers, while Cody would ride in to avenge the death of Custer - 'The first scalp for Custer.' He would yell from the back of his trademark white horse. This is partly based on truth for it was Cody who had killed and scalped the Indian, Yellow Hair and although it seems unlikely it was generally believed for many years that it had been Yellow Hair who had killed Custer at the Little Big Horn.

Though in truth no one knows who actually killed Custer, indeed the Indians would not have recognized him since he had been out of uniform, wearing buckskins at the battle and his famous flowing locks had been cropped short to hide encroaching baldness.

What is known that on 25th June 1876, General Custer led 210 men of America's elite 7th Calvary into battle near the Little Big Horn in what is present day Montana and confronted thousands of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. The Calvary were wiped out, but  Custer, realizing the situation was hopeless,  may have even killed himself once he saw the battle was lost. He had suffered two bullet shots - one in the heart and one in the head.

Still, why let the truth get in the way of a good story....

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Book Review: Little Big Man by Patrick Berger

I first came into contact with Little Big Man via the Arthur Penn 1970 movie - that film is something of a revisionist western and is generally considered a classic movie. I love the film myself but after finally getting around to reading the source novel, the movie has been somewhat diminished for me and I consider the novel to be vastly superior.

 I  can't understand why the movie changed the story somewhat; expanded the role of the character, Mrs Pendrake for instance. I suppose it was to give Faye Dunway more to do in the picture but it takes away from the depth of the story when later in the movie, Jack Crabb discovers her working as a prostitute, when in the novel this particular story-line was given to a character who Jack mistook for a long lost niece, and promptly spends much of his energy on earning the money to get her schooled properly, to turn her into a woman like Mrs Pendrake. This section of what is an epic story is far more powerful in the novel than in the movie, and is perhaps the biggest change from book to screen. Maybe if a lesser actress had been cast in the role then she would have been given a  smaller, though pivotal role in proceedings.

Though it is true that whilst Mrs Pendrake is far more of a secondary character in the novel,  her influence on Jack Crabb is felt throughout his life, particularly in the way he places women, or at least those who, he considers to be proper women,on a pedestal. For Jack Mrs Pendrake represents the perfect woman, and she often comes into his thoughts when he has dealings with those of the opposite sex.

The novel is famous for mixing in fact with fiction, and for the way Jack Crabb interacts with actual historical figures throughout his story, and the main ones throughout the narrative are Wild Bill Hickok and General Custer, though Jack also comes into contact with a young Wyatt Earp, though his brief interaction with Earp was for some reason not used in the movie. Still, that I can understand since Earp doesn't really have that much to do with where the narrative is heading and that's to show how Jack Crabb became the only white survivor of the Battle of the Little Big-Horn. Though western readers will know that it was Wild Bill Williams who was actually the only white survivor of the battle - check out Wild Bill Williams by Jack Martin for the lowdown on that.

The basic premise, both movie and novel, are virtually identical - the story is told by Jack Crabb, more than a hundred years old at the start of the book, and takes us through a history of the period known as the Wild West. As a young boy Jack saw most of family slaughtered by the Cheyenne Indians and he is carried away and brought up by the tribe. Later he is brought back to white civilisation and adopted by the Pendrake family, only to leave again when he discovers that the supposedly prim and proper Mrs Pendrake is actually a bit of a wild eyed slut whenever she gets the chance. From there Jack moves back and forth between Indian and white culture as an entertaining, often thrilling as well as humorous story moves towards the demise of Custer and the beginning of the end for the Indian way of life. Jack's various times with the Cheyenne throughout the story really drives the narrative and are by far the best parts of the book. The Indians call themselves the Human Beings and look down with puzzlement at the whites who they see as being vulgar and  infantile with no understanding of the centre of the world.

Larry McMurtry in his introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of the book called it, 'An American masterpiece. Up there with Twain and Hemingway'

Who am I to argue with that?

An excellent tall tale......


Thursday, 13 September 2018

Was Paul McCartney Jack the Hopper? Shocking evidence reveals Paul McCartney 's past as a frog killer

It's not new , was hit upon in Many Years From Now by Barry Miles back in 1997 but a new interview in GQ Magazine has brought up Paul McCartney's dark past as a serial killer of frogs. Yes as unlikely as it seems McCartney was actually Jack the Hopper, an amphibian serial killer, responsible for mass frogicide who has never been brought to justice.

"Yeah, I remember exactly why it was and what it was. We used to live on a housing estate called Speke, in Liverpool, just millions of houses, right on the border of woods and deep countryside. So I did a lot of that, went out in all that. But I was very aware that I would soon be joining the army, because all of us were called up for National Service. I was probably about 12, I was looking at being 17, which is kind of looming—it's going to happen fast—and the one thing that I thought is: 'I can't kill anything—what am I going to do? Get a bayonet and hurt someone? I've got to kill someone? Shit, I've got to think about that. How do I do that?' So I ended up killing frogs." McCartney told GQ Magazine when prompted of his blood thirsty past.


The Frog Chorus, Macca's  1984 song found the bloodthirsty musician once again thinking about frogs but this time he didn't torture the poor creatures but instead had them singing, 'Bom Bom, Bom', which upon reflection may have even been worse.


"I do look for rational explanations—I do think, you know, kids are cruel. Kids swing cats. I was from Liverpool—you do that kind of shit. It's dumb, it's mean, it's horrible, but you do that kind of shit. What is it? You're trying to toughen yourself up? I don't know. But I did. And I used to go out in the woods, and I killed a bunch of frogs and stuck them up on a barbed-wire fence. It was like a weird sort of thing that I kind of hated doing but thought: 'I'm toughening myself up.' I remember taking my brother there, once, to my secret place. And he was just horrified. Thought he had a nutter on his hands. And probably did." McCartney went on


Newspaper report from the time of the killings
McCartney's ritualistic killings resulted in dozens of frogs being impaled on barbed-wired fences, while the soon to be Beatle danced about, chanting 'Bom, bom bom,' and absorbing the amphibian's life force.

"I wonder. I don't know. He's just my younger brother—I showed him what I was doing. I think he was horrified, but I think I was, too. It was a dark thing, but no darker than a lot of stuff that was going on on our estate. It was just my way. I remember very consciously thinking: 'You've got to learn to harm things because you're a sissy. So you'd better get in some practice.'" McCartney tries to justify his froggicide.


The documents relating to this case are now with the AID, the Met's Amphibian Investigation Department.

Fall in: New Commando titles

There are four new Commando books on sale this week - titles are The Cutting Edge, Agents at War, Sea-Strike and The Pact.

Commando is Britain’s longest serving war comic, publishing stories of action and adventure since 1961. These stories, with their mixture of excitement, danger and courage under fire, and the dynamic artwork that accompanies them, have won Commando a loyal readership over the decades.

Lately the series has been on something of a roll - I've especially enjoyed many of  the Home Front set stories. These really bringing a freshness to the long running series.

This week I especially enjoyed, The Pact by Heath Ackley, which centered on the Indian Army which during the second world war was the largest volunteer force in history. Their contribution to the war effort is often overlooked so it was especially good to see Commando focusing a story on the Indian troops.

Other titles available now:









































DC Cinematic Universe lose both Superman and Batman

Reports are that the floundering, DC Cinematic Universe has lost both it's Superman and Batman with Henry Cavill confirmed as leaving the Superman role. This week, The Hollywood Reporter quoted sources saying that Cavill is done with the Man of Steel, and this was followed by the New York Post reporting that Ben Affleck is hanging up his Batman cape.

The DC cinematic universe seems to be in a right mess.


Warner Brother's released a statement that included the following:




"While no decisions have been made regarding any upcoming Superman films, we've always had great respect for and a great relationship with Henry Cavill, and that remains unchanged."

Although the Warner's statement doesn't come right out and say that Cavill is leaving the role, it doesn't deny it either. A similar situation exists with Batman at the moment with neither Warners nor Affleck confirming that he is finished with the role, however reports have surfaced that Warners have requested digital mock ups of Game of Thrones actor, Kit Harrington in the role.