Saturday, February 21, 2015

Geekdom is a small world sometimes...

So, follow me here: a few nights ago, Wonder Wife and I watched The Rocketeer,  the 1991 movie based on the classic Dave Stevens pulpy comic book series (that had several homes and incarnations in its all-too-brief run). The movie is pretty goofy, more matinee fun than anything, and there are some great turns by folks like Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton, and Paul Sorvino (and a pre-Lost Terry O'Quinn as Howard Hughes) as they support Billy Campbell as the high-flying hero.

Anyway, the main muscle for the bad guys is Lothar, a giant, hulking thug in a porkpie hat, played by actor Tiny Ron Taylor:

IIRC, Lothar wasn't in the original series (although he was apparently added to a later adventure created after the movie was made).  The character is clearly modeled on The Hoxton Creeper, a character played by actor Rondo Hatton in the 1944 Sherlock Holmes movie The Pearl of Death:

Now, Tiny Ron Taylor, the movie Lothar, was a big guy - seven feet tall according to his own website - but he was just a guy who gets his clothes at the Big & Tall Shop and was pretty average looking. Here's Tiny Ron without his Lothar makeup:

But Rondo Hatton suffered from acromegaly. This pituitary gland disorder is sometimes associated with gigantism, but surprisingly for his image, Hatton was only average height - maybe a little tall, but certainly not Tiny Ron size. The effects of his condition can be seen more in his facial features, which were distorted by the disorder - his Creeper visage was not done with prosthetics. Here's a typical publicity shot:

So as I was researching all of this after watching the movie, a little bell went off. Remember my review of  Different Ugliness, Different Madness from a few weeks ago? The French graphic novel about two lost souls finding each other? Here's their first meeting from that story:

Let's zoom in on that last panel:

Look familiar?

Now, that there are hommages in Paul Stevens's work is nothing surprising - his stuff was practically wall-to-wall period references and riffs. But why would a French cartoonist working in 2005 use the image of a Hollywood actor who had died in 1946 as the model for his forlorn and alienated character? I can't find a connection between Hatton and France besides his having served there in the First World War. Did Marc Males Google acromegaly and find a picture of Hatton? Or had he watched The Rocketeer too?

Or is is just that all of us nerdy types, whether creators or audience, are all drawn to the same stuff?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hitting the nail

So, I recently tripped over a couple of articles on a movie blog, one called 5 Comic Book Adaptations That Got It Just So Wrong and one called 5 Comic Book Adaptations That Got It Just So Right. You can find these articles on your own if you like, but I wouldn't waste a lot of time looking for the, since they should have just been combined into a single essay titled Some Superhero Movies I Liked and Didn't Like for a Variety of Reasons that you could then skip at your convenience.

In neither article does the author ever give us a clear sense of what just so right and just so wrong actually mean. Some of the so wrong movies deviate from what he considers the core concepts of the character; but so do some of the so right ones. His responses to the various movies and television shows are so idiosyncratic that the essays become even less useful than a typical review and are all the more disappointing because of the promise they held out for some greater meaning than a simple thumbs up or thumbs down.  There's no core thesis to be found. (Is my English composition teacher showing?)

To balance the ecosystem of the comixweblogosphere, I am going to offer my Superhero Comic Book Adaptation That Got It Right, and back it up.

First of all, to define terms: got it right means a movie closely matched the spirit and sensibility of the source material, visually, narratively, and thematically. It does not mean a slavish devotion to continuity or canon, but rather the evocation of the same sort of emotional response in the viewer of the movie that a reader of the comic would have.

In my mind, the movie that has succeeded best at this specific objective is...

Now, I know this 1984 Salkind spin-off doesn't get a lot of love (even though it gave us the wonderful Helen Slater), and I'm not arguing that it is the best superhero movie ever or even that it is a good movie. What I am saying is that this is the most faithful translation of a comic's style and mood from page to screen.

You see, in the early eighties, The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl was being written by Paul Kupperberg and illustrated by Carmine Infantino. Kupperberg was a former fanzine publisher who became a DC stalwart in the Julie Schwartz days; his stories were typical of Bronze Age DC: not as goofy as Silver stories, overly earnest in their "relevance," and about as hip as Happy Days. Infantino, after being removed as Publisher of DC, was back to work as an artist, replacing his earlier delicate style with lines that embodied the ideas of brio and gusto and elan. Here's an example of their collaboration, from a DC promotional comic:

"Halston I'm not, Kara..." Oh, Kupperberg, you wag!

Here are some more samples from  the comic:

I got news for you, babydoll - this ain't Watchmen. These comics are big, they're bright, they're bold - they're comic book-y

And they comprised the model for the movie that came out a year or so later. Here's the trailer from the movie, which matches my memory pretty closely (except I am sure there was a much higher ratio of Peter O'Toole). I think you can see where the filmmakers took their cues:

As my cinematic namesake would say, am I wrong? Sure, they changed a lot of stuff - that giant robot became a piece of construction equipment -  but the female antagonists, the forced humor, the awkward romantic element, and the whole tone and timbre are spot on. I mean, Faye Dunaway even looks like she was drawn by Carmine Infantino.

I will stand by this assertion:  over 30 years ago, Supergirl was the movie that got it right.

Of course, the greatest single performance to get it right occurred 18 years later, but that's another post.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Last Illegal Alcohol Delivery Route of Lucas Doolin

Returning home from service in the Korean War, Lucas Doolin, a resident of the rural mountain area of southern Kentucky, made his living delivering liquor that had been distilled by his father without proper license or any government approval. He was one of several such drivers in the region around Knoxville, Tennessee so engaged.

On April 1, 1954, with increasing pressure from both federal law enforcement agents and organized crime elements from out-of-state, Doolin set out to make what his father had determined would be the last delivery from their distillery.

Doolin took a circuitous route to his intended destination in order to evade apprehension by law enforcement officers. Although Google mapping services show a distance of 125 miles and a projected elapsed time of two and three-quarter hours for the trip, it is likely that Doolin actually traveled further, since he frequently left the main highway and took roads that even angels feared to tread in his efforts to avoid police roadblocks. Nonetheless, he may have actually made the journey in less time, since thunder was his engine and from the very start of the trip he was revving up his mill.

An unnamed federal agent had assured Doolin he would arrest him as sure as fate, but by the end of the evening neither party to the encounter had succeeded. Before he could make his delivery, Doolin died in a vehicle accident when his car left the road while traveling at an estimated 90 miles per hour. Although the law swore they'd get him, the devil got him first.

On Thunder Road.