Black Fedora

Black FedoraAuthors: B.C. Bell / Phillip Drayer Duncan / Kevin Paul Shaw Broden
Publisher: Pro Se Productions
Published: September 2013

Any story, is only as good as its villain. But what happens when the story is twisted a bit, so the villain becomes the star of the show, rather than the hero? I am not talking about the Joker, Darth Vader or Blofeld. They exist as foils for their heroic counterparts, Batman, Luke Skywalker and James Bond. I am talking about the really bad guys who overshadow the goodness and light heroes – such as Fu Manchu, Dr. Mabuse or Fantomas.

Adopting the same approach – where the villain is the hero – comes Black Fedora – a compendium of three tales where the villain is the star attraction. The first tale, Sometimes They Pay in Bullets, written by B.B. Bell, is a noirish crime tale that would appeal to people who like Richard Stark’s (Donald Westlake) Parker series, Terrence McCauley’s Prohibition – or films like High Sierra (with Humphrey Bogart) or Point Blank (with Lee Marvin).

The villain in question is a man named Keller. As the story begins, Keller returns to an un-named gambling town and immediately is caught up in a turf war between two mobsters, Fabian and O’Hannoran. But Keller is not the type to align with anybody for long. He is out for himself. The story features gunfights, corrupt cops, bent politicians and a dame with a hidden agenda.

The second entry is The Warden, written by Phillip Drayer Duncan, and it is extremely different in tone and style to the first. It is a wise-cracking super-hero story. Sorry, let me rephrase that – super villain story.

The Warden, of the title, is a villain whose specialty is capturing super heroes and locking them away in a purpose built prison. This story sees him taking on Mr. Elusive in a smackdown battle in the heart of the city. The Warden is a blast from first word to last.

Rounding out the collection is The Man Who Stole Manhattan by Kevin Paul Shaw Broden, which is a steampunk adventure (with a dash of the Rocketeer thrown in for good measure). The villain is the Maestro Mechanic – who, as the title would imply, steals Manhattan.

If I have a criticism of the book (and other readers may think this is of little consequence – and may in fact be a strength) is that each of the stories are so very different. Aside from the central villainous thread, the book doesn’t feel cohesive to me. Please Note: That is not a criticism of the stories, but the package. I can imagine readers who enjoy the tough noirish thrills in Sometime They Pay in Bullets being slightly perturbed as they roll onto the lighter, wise-cracking story, The Warden. But maybe that is just me? But moving away from my curious peccadilloes, put simply, in Black Fedora, there is crime noir story, a super hero story, and a steampunk story. If you enjoy these genres, then there’s no reason you wouldn’t enjoy the book.

As advertised, the bad guys are front and center and determined to do things their way – and heaven help any lawman who gets in their way.

Here’s the press-release from Pro Se.

Welcome to the dark side. BLACK FEDORA holds stories where the hero is the villain and one person’s crime is another person’s glory. Get ready to step out of the light and take a tour of various underworlds with three tales that give a steely-eyed look at what secrets lurk beneath the BLACK FEDORA.

This exciting anthology consists of tales by B. C. Bell, Phillip Drayer Duncan, and Kevin Paul Shaw Broden and a stunning cover by the best Pulp Artist today, Douglas Klauba! Edited by Brad Mendel and Mark Beaulieu with cover design and print formatting by Sean Ali and Ebook formatting by Russ Anderson, BLACK FEDORA is so good it’s criminal.

“Villains,” Tommy Hancock, Pro Se Productions’ Editor in Chief and Partner in the company, states, “fascinate us. Since the beginning of storytelling, no tale is complete without the bad guy or gal. They capture our imagination so much that we have this almost insatiable need to turn them into the hero, even going as far as justifying the villain’s actions. From penny dreadfuls that made Billy the Kid an upstanding defender of widows and orphans to the almost fanatical fandom for types such as J. R. Ewing, villains speak to all of us.”

“In Pulp, though, the Villain didn’t necessarily ascend to Hero status. From Fu Manchu to Doctor Death (both of them), the villain, though he may have stated reasons his cause was just, was a bad guy. That’s what BLACK FEDORA is all about. Yes, it brings the evildoer to the forefront, but it doesn’t strip the character of its purpose, of its design. The bad guys in these pages are as bad as they come. Fortunately we have their stories told by three of the best writers in Genre Fiction today. This collection at least allows us all to vicariously cheer for the villain and for a little while wear the BLACK FEDORA.”

Black Fedora

Arsène Lupin (2004)

Country: France
Director: Jean-Paul Salomé
Starring: Romain Duris, Eva Green, Kristin Scott Thomas, Marie Bunel, Nicky Naude, Pascal Greggory
Music: Debbie Wiseman

Continuing the tradition of looking at some of the cinematic and literary characters who have provided the template for modern spy stories, today we look at Arsène Lupin. Lupin could be considered the French equivalent of The Saint — having said that, Lupin was actually created before The Saint. Both characters are criminals, but the victims of their crimes are typically criminals who operate above the law. Lupin has been around since the beginning of the last century and appeared in a myriad of books, films, comic and television productions.

Here’s what the knowledgeable contributors to Wikipedia say about the character Arsène Lupin:

Arsène Lupin is a fictional character who appears in a book series of detective fiction / crime fiction novels written by French writer Maurice Leblanc, as well as a number of non-canonical sequels and numerous film, television [shows] such as Night Hood, stage play and comic book adaptations.

A Spanish comic book adaptation

A contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941) was the creator of the character of gentleman thief Arsène Lupin who, in Francophone countries, has enjoyed a popularity as long-lasting and considerable as Sherlock Holmes in the English-speaking world.

There are twenty volumes in the Arsène Lupin series written by Leblanc himself, plus five authorized sequels written by the celebrated mystery writing team of Boileau-Narcejac, as well as various pastiches.

The character of Lupin was first introduced in a series of short stories serialized in the magazine Je Sais Tout, starting in No. 6, dated 15 July 1905. He was originally called Arsène Lopin, until a local politician of the same name protested, resulting in the name change.

Arsène Lupin is a literary descendant of Pierre Alexis Ponson du Terrail‘s Rocambole. Like him, he is often a force for good, while operating on the wrong side of the law. Those whom Lupin defeats, always with his characteristic gallic style and panache, are worse villains than him. Lupin is somewhat similar to A.J. Raffles and anticipates characters such as The Saint.

Lupin has appeared in at least twenty-one motion pictures, and five television series, the last being in 2007, which was made in the Philipines. Below are the films:

Arsene Lupin
Arsene Lupin 1932

The Gentleman Burglar (1908) with William Ranows.
Arsène Lupin (1914) with Georges Tréville.
Arsène Lupin (1915) with Gerald Ames.
The Gentleman Burglar (1915) with William Stowell.
Arsène Lupin (1917) with Earle Williams.
The Teeth of the Tiger (1919) with David Powell.
813 (1920) with Wedgewood Newel.
Les Dernières aventures d’Arsène Lupin (1921).
813 – Rupimono (1923) with Minami Mitsuaki.
Arsène Lupin (1932) with John Barrymore.
Arsène Lupin Returns (1936) with Melvyn Douglas.
Arsène Lupin, Détective (1937) with Jules Berry.

Enter Arsene Lupin 1944
Enter Arsène Lupin (1944) with Charles Korvin.
Arsenio Lupin (1945) with R. Pereda.
Nanatsu-no Houseki (1950) with Keiji Sada.
Tora no-Kiba (1951) with Ken Uehara.
Kao-no Nai Otoko (1955) with Eiji Okada.
Les Aventures d’Arsène Lupin (1956) with Robert Lamoureux.
Signé Arsène Lupin (1959) with Robert Lamoureux.
Arsène Lupin contre Arsène Lupin (1962) with Jean-Pierre Cassel and Jean-Claude Brialy.

Arsene Lupin 2004

That now brings us to the last cinematic incarnation of the character, where Lupin was played by Romain Duris. The film itself is a ponderous production,  sorely in need of a director who knows how to tell a story. All of the other elements (costumes, set, cinematography, music) for a great motion picture are in place, except for the narrative. Having said that, the film is enthralling for all it’s running time. The pace never slackens, and you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled and pay heed to every utterance from every character, no matter how minor, simply to ascertain what is going on.

I’ll try and paraphrase the plot, but believe me, there is much more going on than these few simple paragraphs will convey. First we meet the boy Arsene Lupin. He is the son of a master thief. One fine day, the police arrive to arrest Arsene’s father, but the rogue escapes on horseback.

Arsène Lupin contre Arsène Lupin 1962

Many years later, Arsene (Romain Duris) has grown into a dashing young gentleman and followed in his father’s footsteps. He is a master thief. On an elegant cruise liner, Arsene is making short work of the many diamond encrusted necklaces, bracelets and ear rings adorning the female passengers on board. Arsene’s handiwork lands him in trouble and he has to make his escape by diving over the side of the ship into the briny blue below. Luckily the ship isn’t too far from shore.

As the film unfolds, we hear about the legend of King Louis’ lost treasure. Well it is not so much lost, but secreted away many years previously by some monks. The key to the location of the treasure is hidden in four gold crucifixes which have been scattered throughout the country.

Arsène Lupin
Arsène Lupin

Arsene acquires a partner, Josephine (Kristin Scott Thomas), and together they start unraveling the clues which will lead them to the treasure cache. But several things stand in their way. The first is a secret society, much like the Illuminati, who wish to find the treasure to enforce their candidate for the throne of France. Not that it is a democratic process, mind you – they simply want to take control – using the treasure, not only as a financial fillip, but also as a symbol of their right to rule.

The second obstacle is the murderous Beaumagnan (Pascal Greggory). Beaumagnan used to be a member of the secret society but was dismissed after having an affair with Joesephine. He now, not only wants the treasure, but also wants a measure of revenge on both the secret society and Joesphine.

Arsène Lupin 2004

Adding to the many layers of plot convolution is that Josephine, who looks beautiful and youthful, is in fact over one hundred years old. She drinks a ‘magic potion’ to keep her youthful.

There are many other characters in the story, but only one other worth mentioning here, and that is Clarrise (Eva Green). Clarisse was Arsene’s childhood sweetheart and provides shelter for him when he is on the run from the authorities. As the story progresses, she is the only character he can truly trust.
Arsene Lupin, as a film, while struggling for coherency in places is a very entertaining trip, borrowing heavily from Fantomas, Indiana Jones, and H.R. Haggard’s She. But of course, Arsene Lupin himself, has a rich history appearing in numerous novels, movies and television series. Arsene Lupin is the type of film that may benefit from repeat viewings, simply because there is so much going on.

Arsène Lupin (2004)

The Death of Fu Manchu

Actually it’s not the ‘Death’, because nobody can kill Fu Manchu, but it is the end of this week’s series of posts featuring the Devil Doctor. Of course, Fu Manchu will return – ‘The World shall here from me again’, as Christopher Lee would say at the end of each of the Harry Alan Towers movies.

I think it has been a good week, and I have found out quite a bit of new information (new to me, that is) and have a few books to acquire and read: Ten Years Beyond Baker Street, which features Sherlock Holmes stepping in for Nayland Smith, in the dogged pursuit of Fu Manchu. Also The Rainbow Affair, by David McDaniel, the thirteenth in the American Man From UNCLE novels. How can you go wrong — Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin tracking down the evil mastermind.

Fu Manchu reviews on PTK:

The Prisoner Of Dr. Fu Manchu (1956)

The Death Ships Of Dr. Fu Manchu (1956)

The Master Plan Of Dr. Fu Manchu (1956)

The Face Of Fu Manchu (1965)

The Brides Of Fu Manchu (1966)

The Vengeance Of Fu Manchu (1967)

The Castle Of Fu Manchu (1969)

Or the similarly themed (although without Fu Manchu), Hammer Studio’s Terror Of The Tongs (1961) which features Christopher Lee.

The Death of Fu Manchu

The Rainbow Affair

Most of the books published in Australia are the English editions — although some American stuff slips in. Generally though, because we use the same spelling as the English, it will be the English version that is either imported into (or even printed in) Australia.

For the series of The Man From UNCLE books, that means that only 16 of the 23 titles reached our shores. One of those ‘missing’ titles is The Rainbow Affair by David McDaniel. So I have never read The Rainbow Affair, but as we are talking Fu Manchu this week, I thought for spy fans it was a title worth mentioning.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about The Rainbow Affair.

The Rainbow Affair is notable for its thinly-disguised cameo appearances by The Saint, Miss Marple, John Steed, Emma Peel, Tommy Hambledon (at whose flat Solo and Ilya encounter Steed and Peel), Neddie Seagoon, Father Brown, a retired, elderly Sherlock Holmes, and Dr. Fu Manchu. The novel uses the same chapter title format that Leslie Charteris used in his Saint novels. (The title of one of the theatrical versions of UNCLE episodes, The Spy in the Green Hat, is very close to the title of The Man in the Green Hat, one of the “Hambledon” novels by “Manning Coles“.)

That’s a pretty impressive line up of literary heroes, and it’s another book that my life is incomplete without – so I am going to have to track it down — if not for Fu Manchu, then for The Saint, John Steed and Emma Peel.

Here’s what Dr. Lawrence Knapp’s website had to say about David McDaniel’s The Rainbow Affair:

A “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (#13) novel in which Thrush courts Fu Manchu.

“… a tall, thin Chinese, wearing robes of silk which shimmered in the candlelight. His face was unlined, but his eyes were old with ancient wisdom, and seemed oddly veiled, like those of a drowsing cat. Above an imposing brow, he wore a black skullcap with a single coral bead which indicated the rank of Mandarin. A marmoset perched on his shoulder, occasionally nuzzling his ear.”

At a later meeting, the offer of alliance is rejected:

” ‘I know what you desire from me, and perhaps someday you may find something for which I would exchange it. I will know when you do.’ ” The man in the gray suit felt a touch on his arm, and turned to find two great, bare-chested, turbaned guards. He accompanied them out, pausing a moment at the door to look back into the hazed interior of that enigmatic room, where an old Chinese with a brow like Shakespeare, a face like Satan, and eyes of the true tiger green, lay dreaming.”

You can read a few excerpts from The Rainbow Affair at the Westray Avengers Site.

The Rainbow Affair

The Master Plan of Dr. Fu Manchu (1956)

The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu: Episode 11

The Master Plan of Dr. Fu Manchu

Country: United States
Director: William Witney
Starring: Glen Gordon, Lester Matthews, Clark Howat, Carla Balenda, Alan Dexter, Steven Geray, Laurette Luez, John George
Based on characters created by Sax Rohmer

Television has come a long way, and this episode of the Fu Manchu television series is pretty hard going. Most of this is primarily to do with Glen Gordon as Fu Manchu. He is not charismatic, and his clipped, quasi Chinese delivery is pretty dire. At least this episode has a pretty wild premise fro the plot — and that is that Adolph Hitler did not die at the end of the War in Europe, but in fact escaped and has been living on an unchartered island in the Pacific. That is, until now. He has teamed up with the Devil Doctor, and together they plan to rule the world [insert evil maniacal laughter fading into the distance].

As this episode opens Fu Manchu is watching some film footage of Hitler and the Nazi war machine in action. He is pretty impressed. He immediately sends out one of his minions to kidnap Dr. Harlow Henderson (Alan Dexter), who is a world renowned plastic surgeon. Henderson is brought before Fu Manchu and forced to alter the features of Adolph Hitler. Henderson’s disappearance doesn’t go un-noticed, and his secretary, Betty Leonard (Carla Balenda) contacts Dr. Petrie (Clark Howat). Petrie, without the aid of his good friend Nayland Smith, goes to investigate. From an indentation on a notepad — you know where they rub a pencil over the page to see what had been written on the top sheet — Petrie discovers where Henderson went, but he too is caught and brought before the evil Doctor. This doesn’t bode well for Henderson. With two doctors on the scene, he is no longer required. It is Henderson rather than Petrie, because Henderson knows too much, and can identify the altered Fuehrer. To Petrie, Hitler is just a man swathed in bandages — he has no idea of what is going on.

So Henderson is killed and his body ios dumped in a river, but Fu Manchu’s minions are seen by the police in the act. Henderson’s body is soon recovered, and an autopsy report shows that he died from the venom of a rare spider (Tarantula Maximus). This tiny piece of information alerts Nayland Smith to the involvement of the most evil man alive, Fu Manchu.Nayland Smith takes on the case, attempting to track down his friend, Dr. Petrie, the evil Fu Manchu, and a bandaged madman who has a new plan to take over the world.

This episode may be silly, far-fetched pulpy nonsense, but really I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would like a bit more character development, but these episodes only go for around twenty-five minutes, so the time is spent delivering fast paced thrills.

The Master Plan of Dr. Fu Manchu (1956)