Sunday, March 25, 2012

Book Ad of the Week: THE CONTEST (1970) -- take two

December 18, 1970

The Contest
by Mort Weisinger
World Publishing, 1970

To learn more about this novel by D.C. Comics' Mort Weisinger, read our first take on it here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Paperback Newsreel (February/March edition)

Hammer Film Productions' The Revenge of Frankenstein (Panther, 1958), a novelization that was originally published only in England, made its extremely belated U.S. debut in February in a softcover edition from Bear Manor Media. The second volume in a series of 1950s and '60s horror novelization reprints edited by noted film historian and author Philip J Riley, it can be ordered directly from Bear Manor.  Future reprints in this series will include Gorgo by Carson Bingham (Monarch, 1960), Panic in Year Zero! (originally published as End of the World) by Dean Owen (Ace, 1962), The Pit and the Pendulum by Lee Sheridan (Lancer, 1961) Poe's Tales of Terror by Eunice Sudak (Lancer, 1962), The Raven by Sudak (Lancer, 1963), and Reptilicus by Owen (Monarch, 1961).

While we're on the subject of Hammer, the recently resuscitated studio has started a publishing division, and their first half dozen paperbacks should be of interest to our readers. There's a tie-in edition of The Witches by Peter Curtis now available, with a new foreword by director Cyril Frankel

Guy Adams' new novelization of KRONOS (a.k.a. CAPTAIN KRONOS, VAMPIRE HUNTER), with a foreword by director Brian Clemens, is also available. The previous KRONOS novelization (Fontana, 1974) was written by Hugh Enfield.

A novelization of TWINS OF EVIL by Shaun Hutson, with a foreword by director John Hough, can also be found, and a VAMPIRE CIRCUS novelization by Mark Morris will be released in October.

One of the recent Hammer productions, THE RESIDENT, has been novelized by Francis Cottam.

Wake Wood by Karen Watkins is another novelization of a new Hammer joint.

Compiled by Chris Poggiali and Darrin Venticinque

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book Ad of the Week: PEEPER (1981)

December 13, 1981

by William Brinkley
Viking Press, 1981

The film adaptation was never made.

January 10, 1982

Friday, March 16, 2012

Back to Blaise: Peter O’Donnell’s Celluloid Heroine

"...There came a time when fear was transmuted into stimulus, and the moments of danger which had once brought terror now brought only a keener sense of being alive." (O’Donnell, Blaise, 19)

Back to Blaise:
Peter O’Donnell’s Celluloid Heroine

by Nathaniel Poggiali

Modesty Blaise: striking, sophisticated, and lethal, she retired as head of a criminal organization with her devoted right-hand Willie Garvin; wealthy and bored, the two freelance for Sir Gerald Tarrant of Special Intelligence, accepting only the most dangerous assignments. Modesty and Willie made their first appearance on the comic pages of the London Evening Standard in May 1963, and proved so popular that their creator, Peter O’Donnell, continued to feature them in stories for 38 years. Though the comics continued over several decades, a related book series was just as important in keeping the characters alive. O’Donnell’s debut novel, Modesty Blaise (1965; Souvenir Press), was based on a story for an unsuccessful action spoof directed by Joseph Losey.

Within a year of the comic’s premiere, O’Donnell was approached about turning the strips into a film. He completed a screenplay using elements from a pair of stories published in the Standard, “La Machine” and “The Gabriel Set-Up." The film that resulted bears little resemblance to his work. In an interview for Comic Media, O’Donnell claimed that his writing had been altered “first by an Englishman, then by an Italian lady (in Italian)... translated back into English... rewritten by a West Indian, and finally polished off by an American” (8). The film in its released form (with Evan Jones credited as screenwriter) retains the basic story but adds bizarre, unfunny sight gags -- Modesty’s inexplicable changes in costume, for one -- and, according to O’Donnell, only uses three lines of his original dialogue (8). Not surprisingly, the author rewrote his story as a novel.

Like the film, the novel’s villain is Gabriel, a sociopathic criminal mastermind plotting to hijack a government shipment of diamonds en route to an oil sheik in Lebanon. Accompanying him are the obnoxious hired gun McWhirter and butch Mrs. Fothergill, who is introduced gleefully breaking the neck of a British agent. Modesty, at Tarrant’s request for assistance, stages a falling-out with Willie on the French Riviera to mislead their targets, then uses herself as bait to gain access to Gabriel’s ship. The hijack goes as planned but at the hideout, an island monastery somewhere in the Mediterranean, Modesty and Willie plot their escape with the diamonds.

Losey’s film was only superficially faithful to its source, and O’Donnell’s novel, with its warm, complex characters, exciting action scenes, and lack of camp, is far superior. The heart of the book’s success comes from Modesty and Willie’s chemistry, an unusual (platonic) relationship that transcends the genre’s contrived plotting. Noble and wise but tainted by experience, Modesty and Willie are two of the smartest and most credible of adventure series protagonists.

O’Donnell wrote fight scenes in vivid, thrilling detail, capturing the fear and adrenaline rush experienced by his characters. A brutal match between Modesty and Mrs. Fothergill was not properly staged for the film and featured two actors (Monica Vitti and Rossella Falk) who were out of their element, but in the novel we get a strong depiction of every strike and parry.

The villains are also distinctive, and Gabriel has many chillingly memorable moments. First appearing in comic strip form in “The Gabriel Set-Up” (he would return for “The Head Girls” and the fourth Modesty novel, A Taste for Death), Gabriel’s businesslike approach to torture and murder, his casual brutality, an obsession with Tom & Jerry cartoons - the man is unsettling to the point that we fear for his enemies. It’s too bad Losey had Dirk Bogarde, a wonderful actor not well served by the material, playing him for laughs.

Speaking for Comic Media, O’Donnell claimed that as part of the contract between Beaverbrook Newspapers, owner of the Standard, and the film’s producers, the “essential characteristics” of Modesty and Willie could not be altered. Therefore, some of the more outlandish ideas proposed by other writers never made it to the screen. One written scene O’Donnell objected to -- and had removed -- was an opening credit montage that featured Modesty cold-bloodedly murdering a succession of enemy agents (one has his throat removed with steel talons). Sadly, the author could not block Losey’s campy, condescending approach, a fatal miscasting of the great Monica Vitti, and some ridiculous musical numbers.

Far more faithful is DC Comics’ superb 1994 adaptation, written by O’Donnell with illustrations by Dick Giordano. There are minor differences and dialogue has been simplified, but generally this is closer to what was intended for the big screen. The characters are drawn to resemble the work of original penciller Jim Holdaway and successor Enric Badia Romero, neatly placing the graphic novel into a kind of continuity with the strips (sleepy-eyed Gabriel, in particular, seems to have emerged from Holdaway’s sketches). And Giordano has fun in the panels, whether recreating a Road Runner short to illustrate the villains’ entertainment break, or amusingly playing up differences in height between the irascible Fothergill and taunting McWhirter. A remarkable achievement, the graphic novel is a must for fans. It’s a shame that DC Comics could not move enough copies to justify adaptations of the remaining books.

Works Cited

O’Donnell, Peter. Interview. Comic Media 2.2 (Jan. 1973): 4-16. Print.

---. Modesty Blaise. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965. Print.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book Ad of the Week: "Planet of the Apes paperbacks"

Despite what this ad claims -- "5 great novels based on films" -- Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle (Signet, 1968) is really a movie tie-in paperback of Boulle's 1963 novel La Plan├Ęte Des Singes, first published in English as the U.K. hardcover Monkey Planet (Secker & Warburg, 1963), which was the inspiration for the 1968 and 2001 films PLANET OF THE APES. The other four books pictured here are indeed novelizatons: Beneath the Planet of the Apes by Michael Avallone (Bantam, 1970), issued with two different covers, was followed by Conquest of the Planet of the Apes by John Jakes (Award, 1972), Escape from the Planet of the Apes by Jerry Pournelle (Award, 1973), and Battle for the Planet of the Apes by David Gerrold (Award, 1973). Award also issued four novelizations of the PLANET OF THE APES live-action TV series, which ran on CBS from September to December 1974, while Ballantine published three novelizations of the DePatie-Freling animated series RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES (NBC, 1975-1976). Dell Rey reprinted Boulle's novel in 2001 to tie in with Tim Burton's PLANET OF THE APES redux, but RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011), a prequel to the original film series, became the first POTA-related project to not have a novelization.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Book Ad of the Week: THE COUCH (1962)

Gold Medal novelization by Robert Bloch, based on his screenplay (from a story by Blake Edwards and Owen Crump)