Saturday, November 27, 2021

DC Comics' Pow Wow Smith

Native American characters are not particularly common in American comic books. That having been said, for much of the Fifties, National Periodical Publications published the adventures of a Native American detective. Pow Wow Smith may not be particularly well remembered today, but the character would prove successful for a time.

Pow Wow Smith was Ohiyesa, a Sioux Indian from Red Deer Valley. His skill with guns, the bow, and guns, not to mention his considerable talent as a detective, resulted him being hired as deputy sheriff in the town of Elkhorn. He later became the town's sheriff. While he prefers being called by his given name of Ohiyesa. the white people round him insist upon calling him "Pow Wow."

Pow Wow Smith first appeared in Detective Comics no. 151, September 1949. At that point his adventures were set in the present day. Pow Wow Smith would remain a back-up feature in Detective Comics until no. 202, December 1953. The character then moved to Western Comics no. 43, February 1954, where he became the cover feature. With Western Comics no. 44, April 1954, Pow Wow Smith's adventures shifted to the Old West without any explanation of why. While Pow Wow Smith was supplanted as the cover feature by Matt Savage Trail, Boss in 1959, he would remain apart of Western Comics until its final and 85th issue, February 1951. When DC Comics rebooted their title All-Star Western with issue 1, September 1970, Pow Wow Smith was its cover feature. He would remain a part of All--Star Western  for its first several issues.

An explanation for Pow Wow Smith existing both in the Old West and in the present day, with the present day Pow Wow Smith being identified as the descendant of the Pow Wow Smith of the Old West. As to his given name, it would appear that it was taken from the name of the Sioux physician also known as Charles Eastman. Dr. Eastman was well known for his works on Sioux history and one of the most eloquent commentators on Native American affairs.

Since the Seventies, Pow Wow Smith's appearances have been infrequent. He was one of the detectives from that title who appeared in Detective Comics no. 500, March 1981. The Old West version of Pow Wow Smith appeared in Armageddon: The Alien Agenda no. 3, January 1992. More recently the modern day version of Pow Wow Smith appeared in Robin Annual no. 6, August 1997. He would later appear in the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Once and Future Thing, Part One: Weird Western Tales." A time travel episode set in the Old West, only the villains address him as "Pow Wow."

While his nickname of "Pow Wow" is regrettable, Ohiyesa is important in the history of American comic books. He was one of the first Native American characters to have a regular series and one of the first to headline a comic book. The Pow Wow Smith feature was also one of the first to deal with racism against Native Americans, a subject rarely touched upon in comic books of the Fifties.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Christmas Movies on TCM in December 2021

Every December Turner Classic Movies shows several Christmas movies. I have no doubt that many look forward to watching their favourite holiday movies on TCM each year. Given how rough 2021 has been for many, I am guess classic movie buffs may be looking forward to Christmas movies on TCM next month more than usual.

Below is a schedule of Christmas movies airing on Turner Classic Movies in December 2021. Here I have to warn you that I have only included movies that meet my admittedly strict criteria for what is and isn't a Christmas movie. As much as I love Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)--it is one of my favourite movies of all time--I never have really thought of it as a Christmas movie, even though I can understand why some do. In cases of movies that I haven't seen, I included them as I have no way of knowing if they meet my criteria or not. BTW, if you are wondering about those criteria, you an find them here at my post "What Is a Christmas Movie." 

All times are Central.

Saturday, December 4
11:00 AM A Night at the Movies: Merry Christmas! (2011)
4:45 PM It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)

Sunday, December 5
11:00 AM Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)
1:00 PM Bundle of Joy (1956)
3:00 PM Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
5:00 PM The Bishop's Wife (1947)

Tuesday, December 7
7:00 PM The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Saturday, December 11
1:00 AM Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
2:30 AM Santa Claus (1959)
11:00 AM A Christmas Carol (1938)
12:30 PM A Star in the Night (1945)
1:00 PM 3 Godfathers (1949)
3:00 PM Fitzwilly (1967)
5:00 PM The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
7:00 PM Lady on a Train (1945)

Sunday, December 12
11:00 AM All Mine to Give (1957)
1:00 PM O. Henry's Full House (1952)
3:15 PM Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
5:15 PM Remember the Night (1940)

Monday, December 13
1:00 AM Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1984)

Saturday, December 18
11:00 AM Meet John Doe (1941)
1:15 PM Susan Slept Here (1954)
3:15 PM In the Good Old Summertime (1949)
5:15 PM Holiday Affair (1949)

Sunday, December 19
9:15 PM The Holly and the Ivy (1952)
11:00 PM Christmas Past (1925)

Monday, December 20
8:00 AM The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
10:00 AM Cover Up (1949)
11:30 AM Crooks Anonymous (1962)
5:00 PM Lady on a Train (1945)
7:00 PM We're No Angels (1955)
9:00 PM Fitzwilly (1967)
11:00 PM Lady in the Lake (1947)

Tuesday, December 21
6:30 AM Three Godfathers (1936)
8:00 AM Bush Christmas (1947)
9:30 AM A Christmas Carol (1938)
11:00 AM Alias Boston Blackie (1942)
2:30 PM Period of Adjustment (1962)
4:30 PM The Lion in Winter (1968)
9:00 PM In the Good Old Summertime (1949)
11:00 PM The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Wednesday December 22
11:00 AM All Mine to Give (1957)
7:00 PM Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
9:00 PM Holiday Affair (1949)
10:45 PM Desk Set (1957)

Thursday, December 23
12:45 AM The Apartment (1960)
3:00 AM Bachelor Mother (1939)
4:30 AM Bundle of Joy (1956)
11:00 AM A Carol for Another Christmas (1964)
12:45 PM Desk Set (1957)
3:00 PM Susan Slept Here (1954)
5:00 PM Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
7:00 PM It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)
9:15 PM The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
11:15 PM The Cheaters (1945)

Friday, December 24
5:15 AM The Great Rupert (1950)
6:45 AM 3 Godfathers (1949)
8:45 AM Pocketful of Miracles (1961)
11:15 AM Holiday Affair (1949)
1:00 PM The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
3:00 PM Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
7:00 PM The Bishop's Wife (1947)
9:00 PM A Christmas Carol (1938)
10:30 PM Remember the Night (1940)

Saturday, December 25
12:30 AM Meet John Doe (1941)
2:45 AM Christmas Eve (1947)
5:00 AM Beyond Tomorrow (1940)
6:30 AM Star in the Night (1945)
7:00 AM Tenth Avenue Angel (1948)
11:30 AM Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)
12:30 PM O. Henry's Full House (1952)
2:45 PM It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)
5:00 PM In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

Monday, December 27
6:30 AM The Lion in Winter (1968)

Saturday, December 31
7:00 PM The Thin Man (1934)

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving 2021

Being part Cherokee, I am aware that many Native Americans view the holiday as a celebration of the genocide the colonists committed upon indigenous peoples and observe it as a day of mourning. What is more, I can fully understand their view. After all, much of the mythology of Thanksgiving is centred around the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Sadly, the Wampanoag, who according to legend dined with the Pilgrims, suffered greatly for their contact with the British colonists. That having been said, the Thanksgiving held at Plymouth was hardly the first to be held in what would become the United States, much less North America. Indeed, Native Americans had their own Thanksgiving rituals well before Europeans set foot in North America. The Seneca have Thanksgiving rituals that last four days, and other Iroquois nations have their own Thanksgiving rituals as well. The Cherokee have several different ceremonies at which we give thanks, including the Great New Moon Ceremony, the Exalting Bush Festival, and the Ripe Corn Ceremony.

My only real objection to the American holiday of Thanksgiving is the fact that it is attached to the mythology of the Pilgrims. To me, we simply need to divorce the Pilgrims myth from the holiday and observe it purely as a day of giving thanks. To me the act of giving thanks is very important and,in many way beneficial to the mental health of individuals. No less than Wilma Mankiller, the first woman to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, recognized the importance of expressing one's gratitude. She said,  "We celebrate Thanksgiving along with the rest of America, maybe in different ways and for different reasons. Despite everything that's happened to us since we fed the Pilgrims, we still have our language, our culture, our distinct social system. Even in a nuclear age, we still have a tribal people."

Of course, central to any holiday are various traditions. Here at A Shroud of Thoughts it is a tradition to post vintage pinups. Here then are this year's pinups.

First up is Mary Doran riding a turkey.

Gale Robbins has trained her turkey to pull a cart!

Adele Jergens is taking her turkey for a walk!

Joey Heartherton's plans for her turkey seem less than benign...

Ann Blyth is wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

And, last but not least, Ann Miller is bringing the turkey!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Dark Side of Percy Helton

Most fans of classic film and classic television might be familiar with Percy Helton as the drunken Santa Claus at the beginning of Miracle on 34th Street (1947) or the much put-upon Commerce Bank clerk Homer Cratchit on The Beverly Hillbillies or even the voice of Piglet in Walt Disney's "Winnie the Pooh" animated shorts. Fans of film noir know that Percy Helton also appeared in several film noirs in his career, including Call Northside 777 (1948), Criss Cross (1949), Thieves' Highway (1949), and yet others. In many film noirs, Percy Helton played relatively decent characters, such as the overly cautious yet sympathetic bartender in Criss Cross. In yet other noirs Percy Helton played characters who were dishonest, unscrupulous, and even downright creepy.

An example of one of Percy Helton's more unsavoury characters can be seen in The Set-Up (1949). He plays Red, boxer Stoker Thompson's (Robert Ryan) trainer. Both Red and Stoker's manager Tiny (George Tobias) accept a bribe from a gangster for Stoker to take a dive in his next bout. To Red's credit, he warns Tiny that he had better tell Stoker that the bout has been fixed, reminding Tiny that the boxer can always punch him.Not only is Red dishonest, but he is a coward as well. When Stoker wins the bout, he flees the ring rather than face any consequences.

Percy Helton's follow-up to The Set-Up would find him playing another somewhat cowardly character  Petey in The Crooked Way (1949) is mild-mannered, small-time crook more than willing to grovel before any authority figure. His one redeeming quality is his love for his cat, a beautiful Maine Coon, whom he carries throughout the movie despite being allergic to feline dander. In the final gunfight he finally shows some bravery trying to protect his cat. He dies in the process.

If Red and Petey had some small sense of decency, it is safe to say that Doc Kennedy in Kiss Me Deadly (1955) has none. In the film Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) visits coroner Doc Kennedy (Percy Helton) for information regarding the recently deceased Christina (Cloris Leachman). Being entirely mercenary, Doc expects Hammer to pay for his information. Hammer offers to pay the coroner, but the amount the detective is offering does not met Doc's price. Hammer ends the negotiations over the price of Doc's information by slamming the coroner's fingers in a desk drawer. Naturally, Doc accepts Hammer's price afterwards.

If Red, Petey, and Doc seem unsavoury, they are nothing compared to Charlie Borg, the loathsome tailor in Wicked Woman (1953). Wicked Woman is hardly a good film. In fact, it is closer to being a camp classic than a noir classic. That having been said, Charlie Borg could well be Percy Helton's most memorable character. Charlie Borg is the neighbour of the film's main character, Billie Nash (Beverly Michaels), in an apartment house. The 5'2" Charlie is taken with the much taller Billie (some sources say Beverly Michaels was 5'9", but other sources indicate she was actually 5'11") from the moment he first sees her. Charlie loans her money and even cooks for her in hopes of making his dreams come true. He also spies on her constantly. This leads to Charlie figuring out Billie's plans with the handsome owner of the bar at which she works, Matt (Richard Egan). Of course, Charlie wastes no time in blackmailing Billie into having sex with him. Charlie may well be the most reprehensible character Percy Helton ever played. One certainly will never see Mr. Helton the same after having seen Wicked Woman.

Of course, these are not the only noirs in which Percy Helton appeared, nor the only films in which he played shady characters. In the end Percy Helton appeared in more film noirs than some better known names more closely associated with the genre. And while today he might be better associated with comedy, it can be argued that his most memorable performances emerged in the many film noirs in which he appeared.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Happy 10th Anniversary to the Blog Once Upon a Screen...

I want to congratulate my friend Aurora on her blog Once Upon a Screen...a classic film and TV blog turning ten years old as of today. Aurora published her first post on November 23 2011. Since then she has made many more posts on classic film and television. Aurora clearly loves classic film and classic television, and that shows in her posts. Her posts are immensely readable and I cannot recommend Once Upon a Screen... enough. My fellow bloggers may be familiar with Aurora as the co-host of the Hispanic Heritage Blogathon and the What a Character! Blogathon.

Anyhow, here's to a happy 10th anniversary for Aurora. I hope Once Upon a Screen... continues for another ten years and beyond!

Monday, November 22, 2021

Brute Force (1947)

The popular image of film noir is a movie centred on some down-on-his-luck schmuck who is drawn into a web of intrigue by a femme fatale. Not all film noirs fit this template, however, Brute Force (1947) being among them.Quite simply, the protagonists of Bute Force are already in prison for their crimes (the fictional Westgate Prison, to be precise).

The genesis for Brute Force began with producer Mark Hellinger, who had produced such films as They Drive By Night (1940), High Sierra (1941), and even the Jack Benny movie The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945).  It was after he had read an article by a former convict that he decided he wanted to make a prison movie. It would take nearly a decade for Mr. Hellinger to achieve his goal.

Mark Hellinger turned to Robert Patterson, a columnist for The San Francisco Examiner to develop the movie's story. Robert Patterson took inspiration from a real life incident, the Battle of Alcatraz, a particularly violent escape attempt on the part of armed convicts at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Unfolding from May 2 to May 4 1946, two Federal Bureau of Prisons officers and three convicts were killed during the escape attempt. Richard Patterson's story was turned into a screenplay by Richard Brooks. Richard Brooks had written the screenplay for the camp classic Cobra Woman (1944), as well as the novel Crossfire upon which the 1947 film noir of the same name was based. Brute Force was directed by Jules Dassin, who had earlier directed The Canteville Ghost (1944).  Jule Dassin would go onto direct such classic noirs as The Naked City (1948), Thieves' Highway (1948), and Night and the City (1950).

While Brute Force is very much a film noir, it is also very much a message film. Quite simply, it examines the corruption of the American prison system as it was in the Forties. Westgate Prison is overcrowded and underfunded. While the warden (Roman Bohen) has good intentions, he is seems ill-equipped to deal with the prison. Much of the day-to-day running of Westgate Prison falls to the head guard, Captain Munsey  (Hume Cronyn), an utter sadist who relies on stool pigeons to report anyone violating the rules and metes out punishments that are excessive for the breaches of the rules they are meant to punish. Given the conditions at Westgate Prison, it should come as no surprise that the prisoners, led by Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster), plot to break out.

Given it is set in a prison, one might be forgiven if they think Brute Force has all-male cast. That having been said, the women in the lives of the convicts do appear by way of flashbacks. Ann Blyth plays Joe's wife Ruth, who needs an operation for cancer. It is Ruth's illness that largely fuels Joe's desire to escape. Robert (Howard Duff) recalls Gina, a woman in Italy for whom he stole food from the Army.  When her father goes to turn Robert into the military police, she kills him. Naturally, Robert takes the blame for the killing. Tom's (Whit Bissell) wife (Ella Raines) is his excuse as to why he is in prison. She wanted a mink coat, so he cooked the books at work. Spencer's (John Hoyt) mind goes back to a con artist, Flossie (Anita Colby), who robs Spencer at gun point and then steals his car. Given Ella Raines and Anita Colby's characters, the portrayal of women in Brute Force is to some degree misogynistic, but then such misogyny is hardly alien to film noir.

What sets Brute Force apart from other film noirs, aside from its setting, is that it is an overly violent film for its era. Wilson (James O'Rear), one of the prison's snitches, is killed in a steel press in the workshop. Munsey beats a prisoner who is strapped to a chair. The violence of the climactic fight between Joe and Captain Munsey was such it ran afoul of the MPAA Production Code Administration. Even by today's standards, the violence in Brute Force can be shocking at times.

To a degree Brute Force seems dated (particularly in its portrayal of women), it remains a harrowing film about prison life in the Forties. It remains a hard-hitting critique of the prison system as it was at the time.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

"Born to Raise Hell" by Cheap Trick

"Born to Raise Hell" was one of four songs written by Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick and performed by Cheap Trick for the classic, Canadian animated feature film Rock & Rule (1983). Like the other Cheap Trick songs from Rock & Rule, it would remain unreleased until it appeared on the 1996 boxed set Sex, America, Cheap Trick. It was one of my favourite Cheap Trick songs. It also happens to one of their angriest. Sadly, "Born to Raise Hell" has also fit my mood the past few days.