East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Leave a comment

Other People’s Pulps: Lassiter (1984)

51QCMFGb+bLThere’s a movie I’ve been planning to¬†cover on this blog for a while now, and finally two days back I mentioned it on Derrick Ferguson’s blog post I shared.
The movie is called Lassiter, and it’s from 1984, a time when Hollywood (or thereabouts) rediscovered the old pulp genre. Blame it on Indiana Jones.


A straightforward caper movie with an espionage twist, Lassiter is set in London, 1939.
American cat burglar/cracksman Nick Lassiter (Tom Selleck) is blackmailed by the Yard and the FBI into burglarizing the German embassy, in order to retrieve 10 millions in uncut diamonds.
Add t the mix Lassiter’s ballerina girlfriend (Jane Seymour), a seductive and debauched Nazi femme fatale (Lauren Hutton), and a Scotland Yard inspector (Bob Hoskins) hell bent on seeing Lassiter in the can no matter what, and the whole set-up suddenly gets very complicated. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Other people’s pulps: Roco Vargas

I mentioned The Adventures of Roco Vargas as one of my influences in a post back in 2013, a post I closed saying I’d have to write something about the series.
Well, better late than never, right?

Spanish comic book artist Daniel Torres started writing Roco Vargas in 1983. A specialist in “retrofuturist” settings and stories, Torres referenced streamlined design, Bell Geddes architecture and 1940s-1950s style in his stories.


Roco Vargas, the star of the eponymous series, is a science fiction writer, night-club owner, former space pilot and ladies’ man based in the city of Puerto Bahia. Modeled on classic pulp adventurers, Vargas has a mysterious past, snippets of which we discover throughout the series: he was part of a team of science adventurers, together with Saxxon and Panama Kid, working for professor Kowalski, and they were known as the Space Kids. Continue reading


Orlando furioso, Ariosto and Ronconi

A play presented to international acclaim in 1969.
Transformed into a mind-blowing TV miniseries in 1974.
Broadcast once, in 1975, and never shown again.
I saw it on the telly as a kid – and it’s the sort of thing that makes me think I was damn lucky. No frigging talent shows, when I was a kid!
But let’s proceed with order.

orlando_furiosoThe Orlando furioso (literally, “Raging Roland”) is a classic of Italian literature – a lengthy, intricate, colorful adventure poem in 46 cantos, first published in 1516 by Ludovico Ariosto (the guy you see portrayed here on the left).
The plot is almost impossible to summarize: during the war between Christians and Saracens, in the time of Charlemagne, a host of characters from both sides cross paths, fighting or falling in love (or indeed, fighting and falling in love). Roland, the bravest champion in Charlemagne’s army, falls in love with a “heathen” and loses his mind. Angelica, the most beautiful Christian woman, makes a runner. Both fronts are in disarray. Strange magic is afoot. Monsters roam the landscape.
Many shenanigans ensue.

The Orlando furioso inspired a lot of later works, including Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing takes its central plot from a single episode in the Ariosto work.9780330238144-uk-300
Fantasy fans are familiar with some of the elements of the story as it was used by Fletcher Pratt and Lyon Sprague de Camp for The Castle of Iron, one of their Harold Shea stories.
It can be easily said that, apart from being one of the most influential works in Western literature, the Orlando furioso is also a seminal text of fantasy literature – so much so that Lin carter reprinted it in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line. Continue reading


Curse of the Mummy

I do not usually do negative reviews – because I think it’s much better to just talk about the good things.
Good things are what we want to suggest to our friends – not bore them with how much we hated the last movie we saw, right?

Well, let’s try and be positive.

I’ll start by showing my age and say that my first mummy was the one in the Jonny Quest episode The Curse of Anubis.


Which probably explains why my all-time favorite mummy movie is the 1959 Hammer horror The Mummy, featuring (who else?) Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
There’s a bad guy in a fez – just likein the Jonny Quest cartoon… and the added bonus of there not being an insufferable dog as comedy relief.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Comedy & Espionage: Q Planes (1939)

In the BBC radio program about The Avengers that I linked the other day, Brian Clemens1 mentioned the 1939 movie Q Planes as a film in which the prototype of John Steed first appeared.
So I went and watched the movie.
Because, John Steed.

That, in this specific case, is called Major Hammond, and is played as a suave upper class twit by Ralph Richardson.
Only he’s no twit at all, of course, being a tough and smart operative in the British intelligence.

The plot in a nutshell: German2 agents are using a sort of “death ray” to capture experimental aircraft and appropriate the top-secret technology. An ace pilot is caught up in the plot, and joins forces with a spy and a plucky journalist.

Here’s the first eight minutes – and a perfect introduction to the Richardson character…


Continue reading