Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Raiders of the Lost Franchise: Biggles (1986)

So, the idea was proposed to do a few posts about movie franchises that never started. Movies, mostly shot in the 1980s, that were all set up to be the Next Star Wars, the Next Conan or the Next Indiana Jones, but for some reason (usually a mix of ineptitude, lack of funds and madness) went nowhere, and sometimes entered the legend.

And I like very much the idea, and I think I’ll start with a movie that believed so much in its First in a Series status, that it proclaimed it in the title itself – well, at least in some countries. Today it is considered a cult movie by some, and one of the most ludicrous movies ever by others. The fact that it came with a very well established pulp cred, and it featured Peter Cushing in his last big screen role, only make the whole a lot more painful.

The movie is of course the 1986 Biggles, sometimes known as Biggles, The Adventure Begins (ah!), but also as Biggles: Adventures in Time.

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The Pulp Baker Street Detective

Sexton Blake

Sexton Blake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We talked about Biggles, last week, and the little spotlight the British pulp heroes are getting these days.
And yet, they were (and are) an interesting bunch.
The only one, apparently, that still gets around a lot is Sexton Blake.
Hard putting to sleep a character which appeared in over 4000 stories, penned by no less than 200 different authors.

And I’m particularly fond of Blake because he might well be the first true pulp hero I ever met.
It was in Baker Street, a long time ago…

Sexton Blake goes a long way back – he first appeared in the wonderfully titled Halfpenny Marvel, in December 1893.
One hundred and twenty years ago, actually.
And yes, the same year in which Conan Doyle decided to off his increasingly overwhelming character, the Baker Street Detective.

Part of a number of investigators which flooded the popular magazines with their adventures to fill the gap left by Holmes’ fall down Reichenbach Falls, Blake played the role of Holmes clone for about twenty years, being so cheeky he actually moved to Baker Street, and rented an apartment in front of the one occupied by his more famous counterpart.

blakeThen, in 1919, something changed, and Blake – while keeping his Holmes-like looks and manners – shifted to far more outrageous pulp territories.
Outrageous as in killer carnivore plants and zombie cannibal pigmies stalking the streets of London.
That sort of stuff.
Also, Blake showed a penchant for muscular action and a passion for innovation and technology that put him in the same league of, say, Doc Savage.
And did he travel!
There’s quite a bit of globetrotting in Blake’s stories.
And women – Blake had quite a number of ladies involved in his adventures.

And finally, the bad guys, first and foremost Zenith the Albino, but go on, check the excellent page Jess Nevins set up for Blake, and read the bad guys entries.

The character starred in stories, comics, movies, radio dramas and a TV series.

The Casebook of Sexton Blake

I chanced upon a Sexton Blake omnibus, called Sexton Blake Wins, in the late ’80s.
And I was blown away*.
Blake’s stories were hard to get by, but today something is moving.
There’s a few very good collections, available relatively on the cheap (the David Stuart Davies-edited selection published by Wordsworth goes for less than a fiver), and the character deserves a read, in my opinion.
He’s not the Poor Man’s Sherlock Holmes, as some say.
He’s a quite different sort of character – at least in his “golden age”, between the wars.
He’s a pulp hero**.

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* Being still a teenager I actually wrote a pastiche, in which Blake is hired by Count Dracula – who is stalked by a Dutch weirdo called Van Helsing who’s convinced the Rumanian nobleman is a vampire. Turns out Dracula was actually looking for Holmes, but he got the wrong address.

** And come to think about it, the quite fun movies starring Robert Downey Jr actually feel a lot like good old Sexton Blake fare.


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Where the hell was Biggles?

“So, where the hell was Biggles when you needed him last Saturday?”

Cover of "Biggles of 266"

Cover of “Biggles of 266” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Biggles was mentioned, last Saturday, on a discussion group devoted to pulp adventure, among other things.
While American classic pulp heroes are getting some attention right now, there’s this feeling their British counterparts are somewhat neglected.
Sure, there are fine reprints (and new stories) about Sexton Blake, but what of Biggles and Bulldog Drummond?

As luck would have it, I’ve a Biggles novel right here on my desk – a twenty-odd years old paperback edition of The Camels are Coming I bought second-hand for 1 eurocent.
So, why not write a small post about Biggles*?

Written by a veteran of the First World War, W.E. Johns, the Biggles novels follow the adventures of James “Biggles” Bigglesworth – an ace pilot that, starting as a fighter pilot in WWI, basically goes through most of the conflicts of the first half of the 20th century… flying most of the available planes in the catalog. Continue reading