A Fine Balance: Pulse Fiction Volume 1

pulse_fictionRemember audio cassettes and back when you used to make mix-tapes for all your friends? It was more than slapping your favourite songs on to a BASF C-90. It was walking a tight-rope; an intricate balancing act that took planning and patience. Did you start with a kick-ass rocker, or was it a soulful ballad that set the tone? If the song was too slow you’d kill the mood, or if you went too hard and fast early, the rest of the mix would seem flat. And what did you follow it with? Placement was equally as important as song selection. It was always about balance.

I have found that anthologies are a lot like mix-tapes. There are many anthologies out there in the marketplace, covering all genres – and I am guessing for the editors, balancing the stories within is a tough act. Even though the individual tales themselves maybe fantastic, placing them in the wrong order, or even in the wrong book, can make the reading experience a bit of a stop / start affair.

And that brings me to one of the reasons I am so proud to be a part of Bishop & Hancock’s Pulse Fiction. Having read it from cover to cover, I can say the balance is perfect. Not one of these six stories is out of place – and even though they are different genres they hang together cohesively, united by one common theme; that being – they are rattling good pulp adventure tales told with pace and flare.

The first story in Bishop & Hancock’s Pulse Fiction is The Insanitors by Barry Reese. Reese, the creator of the Rook and Lazarus Gray, is one of the shining lights of the New Pulp movement, and his action packed tale, The Insanitors provides more proof of his story-telling prowess. From first word to last the tale is a roller-coaster ride – taking the reader from Machu Picchu in Peru to the corridors of power in the White House. The hero of the piece is a man who calls himself Dr. Darkness, and aided by his daughter Lilly, he has to thwart the Insanitors, a group of half-breed demons intent on unleashing hell on earth.

The next story is The Honor of the Legion, by yours truly. I have talked about it quite a bit, both here and on social media, so I won’t rehash all that again, but as the title would imply it is a Foreign Legion adventure. The hero of the piece is Legionnaire, Mace Bullard – and since we’re all friends here, I’ll let you in on a little secret … Mace Bullard will return in a new blood-curdling action adventure called Sahara Six. I don’t know when it will be released, but I’ll let you know when details come to hand.

The third story in Bishop & Hancock’s Pulse Fiction Volume 1 is Never Enough Corpses by my Fight Card colleague, Brian Drake. This story is another cracking tale – harking back to The Saint, and other champagne heroes of the past. The hero of the piece is Daniel Redd, known as the Last Ace. Redd is a successful gambler with a taste for the finer things in life. But Redd is not a foppish dilettante. On the side, he also lends his assistance to those less fortunate than himself. In this instance, the damsel in distress who needs his help is Tori Heneghan – a woman caught in the middle of a blackmail scheme – and who has two goons on her tail trying to kill her.

Diamonds Are a Girl’s Worst Friend by Eric Beetner is the fourth tale. Set in Paris, in the early 1960s, and featuring Holly Lake – a slinky cat burglar – as the title may suggest, this tale is a classic diamond heist caper. I have read a few of Beetner’s other works, and generally they have been gritty and tough – often with a pitch black sense of humour. Diamonds shows another side of Beetner’s writing – delivering a sophisticated fast-paced romp that is equally entertaining as his darker work.

From the pen of one of Pulse Fiction’s creators, Tommy Hancock comes the western mystery The Man From Shadow Limb. The township of Shadow Limb is a hive of villainy and vice, that is, until a masked avenger arrives on the scene to clean up the town his way. This tense western tale is part whodunnit, so I won’t give too much away, but to say the story drips with atmosphere and I look forward to more adventures of the Man From Shadow Limb.

Last but not least, the final tale, Cry Blood, by D. Alan Lewis, features battered and bruised hard drinking P.I. Thomas Gunn – a Mike Hammer type character – who comes to the aid of a young woman whose family have been killed, and now mobsters are after her. Gunn sobers up and does his best to protect her as the body count around them rises. I reckon a lot of people are gonna love this one – it’s a great note to go out on.

As I have a story in this anthology, naturally I cannot be totally subjective, but in a collection like this, a story is only as good as the stories around it, and I’ve got to say the tales in Pulse Fiction are top rate. As you’ve probably gathered from the mini reviews above, the mandate for Pulse Fiction was to put together old fashioned tales in a new fashioned way. And to that end, I believe the individual authors, and editors Paul Bishop and Tommy Hancock, have succeeded admirably. Check this one out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

A Fine Balance: Pulse Fiction Volume 1

The Saint in Manhattan (1987)

Country: United States / United Kingdom
Director: James Frawley
Starring: Andrew Clarke, Kevin Tighe, Christopher Marcantel, George Rose, Holland Taylor, Caitlin Clarke, Ben Vereen
Music: Mark Snow
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris

I’m a bit late on this, as it has been out for a couple of weeks, but Madman Entertainment have just released the last piece of the Saint on television jigsaw puzzle – the much sought after The Saint in Manhattan. This pilot for a proposed new television series had never been released before – and had only existed as a poor quality dupe – available from the gray market. But Saint fans can now rejoice. Below is my review from a few years ago (for that aforementioned poor quality dupe).

The Saint in Manhattan is a Saint for the Magnum PI generation. Actually, its probably a few years too late for Magnum, but this pilot episode for a proposed new series has the same smirk and high living like Magnum, and added to that, Clarke has a moustache of Tom Selleck proportions.

Clarke copped a bit of flack for keeping the ‘mo’, but the Saint has had a moustache before. As always, though, in this day and age, any actor who takes on the role of the Saint is compared to Roger Moore, who was clean shaven. I must admit I like Andrew Clarke as an actor and he has been in some good productions – ANZACS springs to mind. But in the work I have seen he has always played a pretty down to earth Australian, so seeing him as a wealthy, womanising high roller, was a stretch for me. And maybe because I know him from his other work, I found his accent flittered between a fake Etonian and his natural Australian accent.

The show opens with a message sent from Special Branch, Scotland Yard to Inspector John Fernack of the New York Police advising him of the imminent arrival of Simon Templar (Andrew Clarke) in New York. Fernack rushes to the airport and watches as the passengers disembark from the Concorde that has just arrived from England. A stewardess walks up to Fernack and hands him a ticket folder, which he opens. Inside in Simon Templar’s calling card.

Meanwhile Templar is being chauffeured by helicopter to a heliport, where his car – with the number plate ST 1 – awaits him. It appears that times have changed, and Templar now drives a very sleek black Lamborghini, which he drives back to his palatial penthouse apartment in downtown Manhattan.

But soon Templar is bored and complaining of malaise to his butler, Woods (George Rose). His restlessness doesn’t last long with the arrival of a letter from an old flame, Margo. Margo also happens to be a world class ballerina. She is in New York to perform Sleeping Beauty, but she has been receiving strange threats. She requires a bodyguard and asks Templar to help out, which he gladly does.

As a promotional gimmick, during the opening night ballet performance, Margo is to wear the multi-million dollar ‘Empress of Austria’ diamond tiara, which belongs to two of the leading patrons of the ballet, Walter and Fran Grogan. After the show, Margo hands back the tiara only to discover it is a fake. As they search backstage, in the tiara’s original carry case there is a calling card – the Saint’s! So Templar is the prime suspect for the theft.

The Saint in Manhattan is essentially a formulaic whodunit, with the Saint investigating all the suspects in between sparring bouts with Inspector Fernack. The story itself may be nothing special, but the dialogue is pretty witty. It is a pity that Clarke doesn’t have the panache or charm to deliver the lines with the sly wink that they deserve.

As I mentioned at the top, The Saint in Manhattan was the pilot episode for a prospective series, but it would be my guess that the show didn’t generate the response and enthusiasm expected and no further episodes were made at the time. However the Saint would return two years later, but with Simon Dutton taking over as Simon Templar.

It’s interesting to compare the two. The Saint in Manhattan had pretty high production values, but was let down by Andrew Clarke’s performance. No maybe that’s unfair – let’s just say that Clarke was miscast in the role. Whereas the following Saint series, in Dutton they had a great Saint, but at times the series looked gritty where it should have looked glamorous and jet-setting. And some of the plots were just clunky, without any wit or panache.

I have probably made The Saint in Manhattan sound absolutely terrible. It is not, but it is what it is…one hour of network television. You can see the same formulaic storytelling in any mystery show of the same era (and probably many from today too).

A special ‘thank you’ to Tanner from the Double-O-Section for help with this review.

The blurb from the Madman DVD:

Simon Templar: lifestyle extravagant… Fingerprints: unavailable… Occupation: highly suspicious… Alias: THE SAINT.

The Saint, is back in New York, restless and bored. But the tedium is about to escalate to full-blown excitement when he is contacted by an old flame, Margo, a ballerina who is set to star in a high profile performance. She has received death threats in the guise of a mutilated doll being left in her dressing room, and as part of the ballet, she will don a million dollar tiara on opening night.

The performance goes without mishap, however, upon leaving the stage the tiara has somehow been swapped with a fake, and The Saint’s calling card has been left in its empty box. Someone has framed Simon, and his old adversary Inspector Fernack is quick to point the finger. Has Margo set up her former flame, or is it an insurance rip-off? One thing’s for sure, whoever the criminal, they should have thought twice before setting up The Saint.

Australia’s Andrew Clarke won the highly-coveted role of Simon Templar in this big-budget, pilot episode for a proposed American series of the classic literary hero created by Leslie Charteris. It’s The Saint for the 1980s, but he still oozes charm, chivalry and heroism as he searches for the truth. The Saint doesn’t respect the law, but he does respect justice. Sometimes they’re not always the same thing.

Never previously available and rarely screened since its original broadcast, at last THE SAINT’s television legacy is complete with the release of this one-off adventure.

The Saint in Manhattan (1987)

The Saint: The House on Dragon's Rock (1968)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: Roger Moore
Starring: Roger Moore, Anthony Bate, Annette Andre, Melvyn Johns, Alex Scott, Glyn Houston, Richard Owens, Talfryn Thomas, Heather Seymour
Music: Edwin Astley
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris

Roger Moore takes the helm as director in what is possibly the silliest episode in The Saint TV series. And naturally, being so silly, it is also one of the most entertaining episodes, and therefore I recommend it highly.

The episode starts with Simon Templar (Roger Moore) arriving by car at a small village in Wales. I wont attempt to tell you the name of the village as it is unpronounceable to my un-cultured tongue. This village seems deserted, and Templar seeking life of any kind heads to the local pub, the Prince of Wales. It too seems strangely deserted. However there is a fire burning, half drunken pints on the table, and smoldering cigarettes in the ash trays. Where ever the inhabitants of the village are. It would appear that they left in quite a hurry.

The House on Dragon's Rock
'We don't like strangers in our village!'

A young girl opens an adjoining door to the main bar and walks in. Templar asks her where the townsfolk are and she says that they have gone to search for Owen. At that moment, the girl’s father arrives on the scene brandishing a shot-gun. When Templar explains that he was invited to the town by the local doctor, Rhys Davis, then the hostility ceases. And soon he has joined the search party looking for Owen.

Who is Owen? Owen Thomas is a shepherd who has gone missing over at Devil’s Gorge. As the search party is about to give up, Owen staggers from the shrubs, disheveled, shaking and as pale as a ghost. He has seen something that has frightened the living daylights out of him. As the search party is called off by radio, the high pitched squeal from the walkie-talkie sets Owen off. He clutches his head and begins to scream. This is practically the last sound he makes, because due to shock, he has lost the power of speech. Therefore he is unable to describe what has frightened him so.

The House on Dragon's Rock
The ubiquitous Simon Templar

Doctor Rhys Davis explains to Templar that a lot of strange things have been happening in the area. A two tonne tractor was upturned in a field, a stable was torn apart, many cows have been found dead, and trees have been torn out by their roots.

No one is sure what is causing the mayhem. The locals all have an idea though, and at the pub they discuss them. Some believe it is a monster from outer space, others believe it is a werewolf or a vampire. However more reasonable minds suggest that it possibly has something to do with a group of scientists, calling themselves the Western Research Laboratory, who operate out of a mansion on top of Dragon’s Rock.

The House at Dragon's Rock
Dr. Sardon and Dr. Armstrong - the men from the Western Research Laboratory

The contempt and mistrust that the locals hold for the laboratory is evident when Carmen Grant, from the laboratory drops into the pub to enquire about the well being of Owen. As many locals believe the laboratory is responsible for his condition, they refuse to talk to her. However, Templar is never one to ignore a lady and updates her on Owen’s progress. Then he escorts her to her car. Along the way he finds out that she is the niece of the director of the laboratory, Dr. Charles Sardon – and if Sardon doesn’t sound like the name of a mad scientist, I don’t know what does!

Naturally Templar delves deeper into the mystery, and finds out that indeed, Sardon is carrying out some very strange and terrifying experiments – experiments that are getting way out of hand. When Carmen is attacked by a large creature, whose tracks lead to Sardon’s laboratory, Templar finds that the madman is breeding giant insects.

The House on Dragon's Rock
Unspeakable Terror!

The House on Dragon’s Rock is an absolute riot, and beyond the mad scientist plot device, the story bears more than a passing resemblance to James Cameron’s Aliens. I am not for a second suggesting any plagiarism from the writers of Aliens, after all this story is pretty derivative of many old fashioned thrillers, but the plot similarities are quite striking – but to reveal more would constitute major spoilers.

The House on Dragon's Rock
Dr. Sardon with his creation

For those readers who have never seen this episode of The Saint, I hope you chose to seek it out. It is thoroughly entertaining, presenting the kind of far-fetched thrills that only a UK television show from the 1960s could provide. The Saint is often considered the ‘straight man’ of British TV when compared to The Prisoner or The Avengers, but this episode shows, when put to it, The Saint team could be just as ‘out there’ as the rest of them.

The Saint: The House on Dragon's Rock (1968)

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 Falcon Steps In

I do not know too much about the Falcon, (I have never seen a film from the series – there was one – TheFalcon in Danger – on late night television this week, but being the ‘technical incompetant’ that I am, I botched the recording) but before I sign off of this series of posts about The Saint, I thought it was worth a brief introduction to the character. A snippet from the, Classic Film Guide.

After playing Simon Templar aka The Saint five times in an earlier RKO studio series, George Sanders played the similarly suave detective Gay Laurence (Americanized to Lawrence) in the first Falcon films before giving way to his older brother Tom Conway in the aptly titled fourth feature The Falcon’s Brother (1942). Conway then played Tom Lawrence a total of nine more times through 1946 to complete the original series, which actually had three “poverty row” additions that featured John Calvert as Michael Waring in the late 1940’s. Based on a story by Michael Arlen, the original entry in this “new” series titled The Gay Falcon (1941) not only featured Sanders but also actress Wendy Barrie, who’d appeared opposite the actor in three of the Templar mysteries including (Sanders’s last) The Saint in Palm Springs (1941). The Falcon character was so similar to RKO’s earlier B movie detective that The Saint’s creator Leslie Charteris sued the studio.

Wikipedia (yes, I know it’s not reliable) elaborates that Leslie Charteris even had a shot at reprehensible scallywag, The Falcon in the book, The Saint Steps In.

Sanders appeared in the first three Falcon films, which followed the Saint pattern so closely that author Charteris sued RKO for plagiarism. Charteris pokes fun at The Falcon in his 1943 novel, The Saint Steps In, with a character making a metafictional reference to the Falcon being “a bargain-basement imitation” of The Saint.

Wikipedia further goes on to suggest that The Falcon was created because the rights to The Saint character were too expensive.

The Gay Falcon is the first in a series of films about a suave detective nicknamed The Falcon. The 1941 B film was intended by RKO Radio Pictures to introduce a replacement for The Saint, after RKO decided that renewing the film rights to the latter character would be too expensive. George Sanders was cast in the title role; he had played The Saint in the prior RKO series.

So I would suggest that The Falcon is possibly The Saint in everything but name, and after all, the RKO Saint films weren’t following Charteris’ stories too faithfully to begin with.

After taking over from Sanders, Conway appeared in nine Falcon films, who was then followed by John Calvert for the last three films.

The Falcon films are:

• The Gay Falcon (1941)
• A Date with the Falcon (1941)
• The Falcon Takes Over (1942)
• The Falcon’s Brother (1942)
• The Falcon Strikes Back (1943)
• The Falcon in Danger (1943)
• The Falcon and the Co-eds (1943)
• The Falcon Out West (1944)
• The Falcon in Mexico (1944)
• The Falcon in Hollywood (1944)
• The Falcon in San Francisco (1945)
• The Falcon’s Alibi (1946)
• Devil’s Cargo (1948)
• Appointment with Murder (1948)
• Search for Danger (1949)

The Falcon Steps In

The Saint: The Ex-King of Diamonds (1969)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: Alvin Rakoff
Starring: Roger Moore, Stuart Damon, Isla Blair, Ronald Radd, Carol Friday, Willoughby Goddard, Paul Faussino, Alan Rowe, Anthony Stamboulieh
Music: Edwin Astley
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris

The Saint television series episodes were generally self contained, unlike the trend in current television series where a back story is played out over many episodes. In some instances this back story comes to the fore and these episodes are considered to be the core episodes. But there is none of this in The Saint. For an episode to become a core episode it must contain either a plot that is exceptionally well written, or a cast of guest actors who viewers are drawn to. However, The Ex-King of Diamonds is neither of these things, but I still believe it is one of the core episodes of the series. Its plot is serviceable, without being spectacular, and the guest stars, while being familiar faces, aren’t really major drawcards either. What makes The Ex-King of Diamonds unique is that the crew behind this episode, producer Bob Baker, writer John Kruse, and even Roger Moore were trying something new. They could see that The Saint’s run was coming to an end and were looking towards their next project – but more on that later. In the meantime,let’s have a quick look at the plot and see if it reminds you of another popular ITC series.

The episode begins on the Cote d’Azur, at Nice airport, where two men have just arrived. One of them is Simon Templar, AKA The Saint (Roger Moore). The other is wealthy Texan millionaire, Rod Huston (Stuart Damon). They have both been invited, along with many other wealthy individuals, to the ‘Hotel Magnificent’ in Monte Carlo for the gaming season. Throughout the season, Boris, the ex-King of Slovania (Willoughby Goddard) is to be the banker at his own priate baccarat table, where he hopes to make enough money to finance a coup, which will see him regain his Kingship.

But first, Templar and Huston have to travel from Nice to Monte Carlo, and their chosen mode of transporation is the motor car. Huston heads off first, but is soon overtaken by Templar in his high-powered vintage saloon. Huston isn’t pleased to be overtaken, and presses the pedal to the metal in an attempt to keep up, and possibly overtake Templar. This results in an egoccentric car chase, with each driver trying to prove who is the better man.

This one up-manship doesn’t stop at just a car race either. Upon arrival in Nice, both men also vie for the attention of Janine Flambeau (Isla Blair) – although it must be said both men strike out with their initial advances. Then the boys engage in some crap shooting. It doesn’t seem to matter what they do, these two seem to be at logger-heads with each other.

Then the card game begins. Watching in the wings is Janine, along with her father, Professor Henri Flambeau (Ronald Radd), who happens to be a brilliant mathematician and the author of ‘Probability in Gambling’. As the game continues, Boris has an extra-ordinary run of luck. So much so, that Flambeau believes that Boris is cheating using marked cards. During a break in the game, Flambeau shares his theory with Templar.

The game continues. Meanwhile Flambeau decides to take his ‘marked card’ theory further, and with Janine in tow, he heads to the factory where the playing cards are manufactured. His investigation is curtailed quickly, when he is captured and Janine is clubbed from behind and rendered unconcious.

The card game is over for the evening. Boris has won a large amount of cash, much to the chagrin of Templar and Huston who adjorn to a patio outside. Here, Templar shares Flambeau’s theory that Boris is using marked cards. Huston is furious that Templar didn’t tell him earlier and a fist fight errupts. Huston wants a piece of Templar, and then once finished, he wants a piece of Boris too. But Templar manages to dissuade him with a well placed punch to the jaw.

To get to the bottom of Boris’ scheme, Templar and Huston agree to team up. To learn more, they decide to track down Professor Flambeau – good thing to, because when they discover him, unconcious, he is being positioned in a crashed car, while Boris’ goons pour petrol over the vehicle. Obviously they are planning to ‘stage’ an accident. Templar and Huston step in and fight off Boris’ goons. The Professor is rescued, but where is Janine? It seems that the mystery is far from over.

So, does the story seem familiar to you? You have two head-strong dilettante playboys on the Cote d’Azur -one English, the other American – they both encounter each other on the road, where a car chase follows – then later get into a fist fight! It’s The Persuaders! The Ex-King of Diamonds was a tryout for The Persuaders television series, and many of the elements in this episode found there way into the pilot for The Persuaders, Overture. Of course there are many differences too. Rod Huston is a slow talkin’ Texan, whereas Tony Curtis as Danny Wilde, was a motor-mouth from the Bronx. But still, the dynamic is the same. First, an outward antagonism, that slowly builds to respect and then friendship.

The Ex-King of Diamonds is a must
see episode for fans of Roger Moore’s The Saint series and The Persuaders. It isn’t as fast paced as some of The Saint episodes – primarily because it has to built up the relationship between Templar and Huston, but time never seems to drag. The characters are good and bounce off each other well. The story itself, seems derivative of quite a few familiar (to spy fans) stories. The first is, obviously, Casino Royale. We have a villain who needs to make a lot of cash (to repay a debt) quickly by playing cards. The card marking could come from the film Kaleidoscope, with Warren Beatty, or even bears more than a passing resemblance to the season one, Mission Impossible episode, Odds on Evil. What I am saying here, is that the plot, even in 1969, had been used quite substantially by spy shows – but that doesn’t really matter. It’s what’s playing out over the top with Templar and Huston that is important, and here the buddy formula that was to prove so successful (in my eyes at least) in The Persuaders was given its first tryout -and for me that is a joy to watch.

The Saint: The Ex-King of Diamonds (1969)