Sinister Cinema: Superman Live

Autograph Hound Super-Sunday once more, and from his extensive files of John Hancocks stacked on top of John Hancocks, Brian Leno sends in Kirk Alyn — the first actor to portray Superman in live action.

Brian noted, “Am enjoying the Warburton stuff. I’m jealous. Talking to some drunk derelict at the bar is not quite the same as you conversing with The Tick.”

Brian and I were chatting and I did a quick run-through of movie people I have met, from William Forsythe to Jackie Cooper. Didn’t count stars I saw but didn’t meet — such as Hugh Jackman opening his one-man play in San Francisco. I saw him for more than an hour but didn’t meet him.

Obviously if I went to Comic-Con a few times I could pile up the brief encounters, but my way is working well enough for me.

The only actor I mentioned to Leno that I saw in such a scenario was Kirk Alyn, at a comic con in New York City, early 70s. Handsome guy, tall, and he gets counted because we were the only two people on an elevator. Didn’t talk. Nodded.

What the hell, the first Superman. I’ll count him.

(Looking up dope on Alyn just now I was almost shocked to see that he had been married to Virginia O’Brien. While I appreciate Alyn’s cultural standing, Virginia O’Brien is one of my film favorites. Master of deadpan. Didn’t get to do enough movies.)

“Dug through my movie serial autographs and found Superman’s,” Brian writes, “since you said you saw him in an elevator, not a phone booth. Thought you might get a kick out of it.”

Brian was thinking that he himself had seen practically no celebrities — then he remembered some “I saw, didn’t meet.

“Went to a boxing match in Vegas years ago and Mr. T was there. Redd Foxx showed up with a young beauty on his arm. The best thing was Bo Derek. A beauty. Truly a Frazetta-like girl.

“Redd Foxx walked by where I was sitting and everybody started hooting and hollering, Hey Redd! He stopped and waved, seemed like a pretty good guy.

“Mr. T of course had more gold on him than a pirate ship.”

And by the way, Patrick Warburton got to play Superman too, in those commercials with Seinfeld, but they made him a cartoon. He could have played it live.

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Posse McMillan: A Jim Nisbet Memory

I cannot say that I knew the late Jim Nisbet well — went to his house in one of the alleys off Hayes and Laguna two or three times, mostly because Dennis McMillan happened to be visiting at the moment.

Hung out with him and other Posse McMillan writers Dennis talked into doing panels for the Tucson Book Fair in March 2009.

That’s about it.

But Nisbet had one tic or quirk that just burned itself into my brain, and I find it morbidly fascinating to brood over to this day.

Believe I first noticed it when I was reading his 2007 novel The Octopus on My Head, set in San Francisco — a city where Nisbet lived for years. I’m not checking the text again to get the details precisely correct, but here’s the gist of what I remember:

The main character in the novel lives pretty much where Nisbet lives, one of the several alleys off the intersection of Hayes and Laguna. He’s driving out to a location around 46th Avenue and Geary.

You can make that run pretty much in a straight shot — say, move one block south on Laguna to Fell Street, kind of a little inner city freeway. Turn right.

You can run out Fell into Golden Gate Park, drift over to Fulton Street on the north side of the park and turn right on 46th Avenue (or whatever the avenue was in the book).

You could do Fell to Masonic, turn right, go up to Geary and go left. With any number of little movements possible — but all leading like a line from Point A to Point B.

I was reading along and soon noticed that the Nisbet car has wandered over to Dolores Street, several blocks off in the wrong direction. With his characters talking all the while, the car goes out Dolores, up Clipper Street, kind of moseys around in the vicinity of Laguna Honda Hospital, and eventually goes around from the south side of Golden Gate Park to the north side, where they want to go.

Completely, totally out of the way.

I thought, okay. . . . Well, maybe Nisbet wanted time for his characters to chat for an hour or so. . . . A ten or fifteen minute trip in a straight line wouldn’t have done it.

At the Tucson Book Fair someone (Dennis, I think) mentioned that going back to California by way of Lake Havasu would involve some kind of slowdown. Road work, something.

I’ve been back and forth between California and the Southwest, and Texas, many times and don’t recall ever getting near Lake Havasu, so I wasn’t worried about it.

But then Nisbet volunteered a route to avoid any problems. I listened.

Listened some more.

He began talking about coming along Hwy 80 toward the Bay Area from Donner Pass. . . .

“Wait a second,” I said. “How did I get on the wrong side of the Sierra Nevadas?”

I can’t remember ever meeting anyone worse on directions. And the trick is that Nisbet had his own sailboat — I have to believe he got out of the bay into the Pacific on occasion, and going the right way out there just has to be harder than turning left at a corner.

Doesn’t it?

Think it was in Snitch World from 2013 that Nisbet irked me the most. I got to where I could ignore the meaningless mélange of streets, as if someone who’d never been in San Francisco was knocking out the story.

But in that novel Nisbet mentions Hank’s 500 Club — a notorious black bar on the corner of Haight and Fillmore — and places it on the wrong corner!

Come on. The 500 Club. Would be at 500 Haight. Northwest corner.

When I told Kent Harrington, prolific Posse McMillan scribe who knew Nisbet well, about this post he asked that I “please do one for me.”

Kent adds, “His mistakes were chock-a-block with good intentions and even when sober he couldn’t tell the difference between Market Street and Geary Blvd.”

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Sinister Cinema: Patrick Warburton

Onscreen in The Woman Chaser, Patrick Warburton plays one of the most unlikable characters you’ll ever meet — before and after the movie, though, you’re talking to one of the friendliest people you’ll find in the bar of the Alamo Drafthouse or pretty much anywhere else.

Hands shaken, not a minute passed before we were chatting about The Tick. I told him it is one of my favorite shows — not a lie. One nine-episode season, got the boxed set.

I even liked the reboot with Peter Serafinowicz in the big blue bug outfit, where they squeaked out two seasons. (Serafinowicz first became an entity for me as the naked flat-mate in Shaun of the Dead, and recent highlights include his bit in John Wick 2 and Spy.)

While Patrick got an EP credit on the reboot, he told me he’d really wanted to reprise the role of The Tick himself.

Man. My heart sank a little. Like finding out some thoughtless producers had booted Clayton Moore out as The Lone Ranger.

Supposing they wanted a younger actor at that moment, Patrick pointed out that you’ve got the blue costume with muscles and antennae and all you see is the rectangle where the face appears. They could have worked it. Jeez, they could work it now with another run.

The Return of The Tick.

I mentioned the Netflix show A Series of Unfortunate Events, in which Patrick appears as the “author” of the adventures, Lemony Snicket. He said that Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Snicket himself, came to a previous screening of The Woman Chaser in San Francisco a few years ago and when the deal was being worked out told them he wanted Patrick to play Snicket. Netflix had other ideas for the role. Snicket himself said, no, I want Patrick Warburton.

One thing leads to another. And also, when you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it.

While Patrick didn’t seem to mind any objectification he received in his performance as Richard Hudson, he did tell me about his two early Dragonard movies, from 1987 and 88, and seemed to still nurse degrees of mortification over those — apparently ranked up there with the worst movies ever made.

The plus side to shooting the Dragonards, aside from some money and getting his foot in a door, he got to work with Oliver Reed.

Reed wanted him to start drinking with him in the morning on the set, but Patrick begged off until evening. Then he drank with one of the most famous drinkers in cinema history. Cool.

And Patrick got to see Oliver Reed’s tattooed dick — eagle pouncing with claws extended over the head of the displayed member — which Reed liked to haul out when he got into his cups.

Since he began drinking as soon as he got up, I wonder, How many people saw that tat?

And after the fact, I realized I could have asked Patrick about his hard-boiled flick Rock Slyde. But it didn’t come to mind among the crush of other chatter.

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Sinister Cinema: The Producer

Willeford said he sent his 1960 novel in under the title The Director, before Newsstand Library changed it to The Woman Chaser.

The director for the movie didn’t make it to this screening (I heard it may have been an option), but the producer. . . . I bet Joe McSpadden represents his movie at every major screening that comes along. A hero.

Image at top, left to right: me, Joe, and Woman Chaser star Patrick Warburton.

After it was all over, I remembered that I wanted to ask Joe about a movie he described when I first met him at the Pacific Film Archives showing in 2009. Joe doesn’t do a lot of producing, but he’s had his hand in here and there.

I thought he had mentioned a Western they were planning to film in Texas.

I’d forgotten Willie Nelson was attached.

West of Texas aka Badlands Baldy,” Joe told me, “died on the vine because Willie Nelson’s name didn’t mean as much as we had hoped. . . .

“The writer and lead actor, Sonny Carl Davis, and I are still in touch, but no one (it seems) wants to make a family Western with those names. . . but you never know.

“You can check out SCD in Richard Linklater’s Bernie, which got a lot of attention for Sonny — he made a campaign spot for Beto O’Rourke as that character.”

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Rediscovered: For the Q&A

Toward the Q&A following the screening of The Woman Chaser with Patrick Warburton in the role of Richard Hudson, I poked around in my book Willeford for any tidbits of info on the novel — a Paperback Original released by Newsstand Library in 1960.

I even pulled the first edition off the shelf to see if it was signed. Some of my Willefords are signed or inscribed, some not — there’s a better chance if the book was sent to me in the mail. If he gave me a book when I visited him in Miami, I didn’t think to ask for a signature.

I found the PBO of The Woman Chaser inscribed to me on the inside front cover — signed “Charles Willeford” — no date.

The inscription reads: “I think Richard Hudson is the most unlikable character you’ll encounter this year.”

I suspect the audience watching the Warburton flick in the Alamo Drafthouse would agree.

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Sinister Cinema: Q&A

For the Alamo Drafthouse special screening of The Woman Chaser on December 7, they followed the film with a Q&A featuring — left to right, above — me, Joe McSpadden, Patrick Warburton (panelists) and Jake Isgar (moderator).

Don’t think I’d seen the movie since it screened at Pacific Film Archive in 2009, at which time I called it a “near-perfect capture of the Willeford novel.” Reinforced by watching the movie last week, my opinion remains unchanged — or as I told the audience, I think Woman Chaser is by far the closest Willeford film to the source material to date.

Obviously Cockfighter from 1974, starring Warren Oates — and with Charles Willeford himself in the cast — would be hard to beat on many levels, but the trick is that Willeford wrote that one more or less as a straight Southern novel. I think it was his personal favorite of all his books. But it just isn’t as Willefordian as most of the others.

Miami Blues from 1990 is good, if nowhere near as good as the novel, but they tweaked various angles just enough to hamper some of the hallmark Willeford touches. (The Crisco sequence just isn’t full-tilt Willeford, for one example.)

Woman Chaser, though, I’m sitting there thinking, Yeah, that’s exactly from the book. Exactly.

And among all the questions from the audience, one woman asked if we thought this movie could be made today — or, another way to interpret the query, could any close adaptation of Willeford be filmed today?

Joe and Patrick seemed inclined to say No, and I can’t disagree. Willeford is a genuine subversive, and if you think about it, it’s kind of amazing his novels got published at all, much less that someone could make them into movies.

You’d have to pull them away from the source material, as they did with the most recent adaptation, 2019’s The Burnt Orange Heresy. I haven’t bothered to see that one yet, once I learned that they moved the action from Florida to Italy and sort of turned it into a thriller.

Could be good for what it is, sure, but it seems to be a movie with a Charles Willeford title, not a Willeford movie.

And another angle to the woman’s question, I suppose — Should they have even made Woman Chaser twenty years ago?

Maybe even, couldn’t someone have stopped them. . . .

Another standout question was a guy asking Patrick if he felt “objectified” by the way he was used in the movie — shirtless, doing the ballet dance with his film mother, that kind of thing? Exactly from the novel.

He didn’t seem to be scarred for life over it.

Lots of other queries. They shot many scenes on the fly, not getting location permits, guerilla-style. Most of the actors weren’t actors.

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Sinister Cinema: The Woman Chaser

Joe McSpadden, producer for 1999’s The Woman Chaser, mentioned that the December 7 showing in the Alamo Drafthouse put the movie on the largest screen ever — swell deal for cineastes.

Above, a still frame of star Patrick Warburton as Richard Hudson gives you an idea of the scale. I think the guy standing on the front stage is Alamo booker Jake Isgar, but he’s kind of small and it’s hard to tell.

Joe popped me a note to ask if I wanted to attend and join in on a Q&A session after the film. The Woman Chaser is based, very closely, on the Charles Willeford novel. I figured most of the questions would be about the movie, but just in case someone had a query about Willeford, I could pipe up. At least mention his name — at least have someone who actually knew Willeford there for totemic purposes.

I met Joe back in 2009 when he flew in for a screening of Woman Chaser in the Pacific Film Archive. PFA had a mini-series going called One-Two Punch: Pulp Writers on Film. I did an intro for the film of Miami Blues on February 19, then on the 28th did Chaser. Only one other movie version of a Willeford novel was out by then — Warren Oates in Cockfighter — and only one more has come out since.

Even better than having the large screen to run the movie, Patrick Warburton came up from Tinseltown to Q&A and hang out. One of my faves for years now (The Tick, baby). Equal, at least, to getting to meet Fred Ward, star of Miami Blues, but with much more time to savor anecdotes. Lots of anecdotes.

I hadn’t been to this incarnation of Alamo Drafthouse before, but when I located the info that it was on Mission between 21st and 22nd I thought, it must be in the New Mission Theatre. Yep. Look for the glaring New Mission exterior blade signage. Can’t miss it, but the Alamo posters are kind of small.

Last time I recall noticing it, New Mission had been closed for awhile, so I was happy to see it back in action. Alamo features seat-side drinks and food, they even have their own bar where you can hobnob with Joe and Patrick. I loved it — might not trade my long years haunting little art house theatres in San Francisco, but the food was great. If I lived across the street, I’d be there every night.

And as soon as the screening wrapped, the Q&A — left to right below, me, Joe, Patrick as panelists, with Jake Isgar doing the moderating:

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Posse McMillan: More on Nisbet

Noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook sent in a few thoughts on the recent death of Jim Nisbet:

I was saddened to hear of the death of Jim Nisbet at age 75.

Nisbet was a tremendously uneven author. I still have no idea whether he got better or worse as he got older, because Dennis McMillan advised me that his novels were published completely out of the order in which he wrote them.

Also, after I met him he allowed Dennis to send me copies of the novels (then) unpublished in the US. The one that I always thought was wildly funny was Ulysses’ Dog, Nisbet’s take on the PI novel. Nisbet never quite equaled the quirky humor of Charles Willeford, but then who else did?

Still, he could write humorously and also seriously as he did in his stone-cold masterpiece Dark Companion.

I did thank Nisbet for the recommendation he provided me at Noir Con to read Derek Raymond.

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Rediscovered: The Latest “Doc Savage”

Brian Leno said he was going to read the new James Patterson “Doc Savage” novel — and he dood it:

A few days ago my mail carrier dropped off The Perfect Assassin, the new novel by the writing team of James Patterson and Brian Sitts. The cover proclaims: “A Doc Savage Thriller.”

It appears that Clark Savage, Jr., didn’t spend all his time fooling around with his crime fighting pals, but also raised a family. The Doc Savage this book concerns is the original Doc’s great-grandson, Dr. Brandt Savage.

I approached it with some trepidation. The same authors gave us a revamped Shadow about a year ago and that novel was pretty bad. So bad it now languishes somewhere in my basement, never to be opened again.

I didn’t think this book would be any better and to prepare myself I reread The Polar Treasure and The Thousand-Headed Man, just to get a little authentic pulp Savage back in my blood.

I figured it wouldn’t be as good as Lester Dent’s Doc, and it wasn’t — but it was far better than Patterson’s Shadow. 

It’s a fast-paced thriller and won’t take up too much of your day. The chapters are short and the writing isn’t exactly attention demanding. We’re not dealing with James Joyce here.

In a nutshell, the book relates the tribulations Brandt encounters as Kira Sunlight trains him to become the perfect assassin to assist her in her plans of ridding the world of some awful mean bad guys.

Kira is the great-granddaughter of arch fiend John Sunlight, who appeared in a couple of Doc pulps. Everything seems to fit, doesn’t it?

While I enjoyed the book it was really just the typical thriller that hits the bookstores these days, no weird elements, no lost cities, nothing that sparks the reader in a journey back to the days of pulp magazines.

Read it if you enjoy the James Rollins or Clive Cussler novels, but don’t expect to find Doc or any of the imaginative antics of the “Kenneth Robeson” writing crew.

While I know I should never say never, now I’m done with Patterson’s Doc Savage, should new adventures arise. I’ll stick to rereading the real Doc, and enjoy the antics of Ham and Monk and that ever resourceful porker Habeas Corpus.

Nostalgia. The older I get I realize just how important that is.

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Rediscovered: Derleth’s Last Book — Well, In His Lifetime

John D. Haefele — author of Lovecraft: The Great Tales, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos, etc. — just popped up an article further investigating how many — or how few — copies may exist of the last of many, many titles published in August Derleth’s lifetime.

For all the book collectors out there.

As of this moment, Haefele calculates that out of the run a total of five copies signed by Derleth survive.

Of course, as an arch-collector he owns one — cover seen at the top, John Hancock below.

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