TIM BYRD’s The Pulp Pit™ – TWO-FISTED FLICKAGE Pulp on the Big Screen Part Two

Welcome to part two of my look at pulp movies…

When last we met, I was discussing The Shadow starring Alec Baldwin. There’s a bit of additional info regarding that film I want to share. For some reason, it has never been released in the USA in its proper aspect ratio. The DVD is one of those butcheries known as “pan and scan,” in which they’ve sliced the sides of the image off in order to make it fit on an old-fashioned, non-widescreen TV screen. This kind of treatment is a travesty for any film, but The Shadow is a really nicely shot, lushly designed film, so it’s doubly so.

There may be international releases available in the proper ratio; I’ll leave that for others to investigate. But you can see the movie as intended streaming on Netflix and Amazon. On the latter, it’ll cost you $2.99 unless you’re an Amazon Prime member, in which case it’s free.

Now, on with the show…

With this adaptation of Dave Stevens’ wonderful comic book ode to the rocketing heroes of yesteryear, Joe Johnston proved years ago that he was the right man to direct a gung-ho pulp era adventure flick like Captain America. Set in 1938, The Rocketeer is the story of Cliff Secord, a struggling stunt pilot, who, through a trick of fate, finds himself in possession of an experimental jetpack (built in the film by Howard Hughes, but in the comics by Doc Savage!). The jetpack is sought by villainous forces, both in the mafia and in Nazi Germany, and as they try to get it from him Cliff is forced into action.

The Rocketeer is a delight, but for whatever reasons it didn’t do well in theaters. Billy Campbell as Cliff is the perfect leading man, dashing and humble and wonderfully over his head. Jennifer Connelly is fiery and gorgeous as his beloved Jenny. Timothy Dalton brings swashbuckling villainy to his role as a sinister movie star. The rest of the cast is great too, made up of character actors like Alan Arkin, Paul Sorvino, Ed Lauter, and Terry O’Quinn.

Johnston directs with energy and wit and a deft feel for character, bringing a pulp world of Art Deco style and Depression-era earthiness to life. He came to the film as a fan of the comic, and unlike many Hollywoodites who are given the task of adaptation, he went out of his way to be true to the source material; for example, he fought a studio directive that the Rocketeer’s trademark Deco bug-eyed helmet be changed to a NASA-style helmet that would show the actor’s face. The result is a perfect cinematic tribute to Dave Steven’s engaging tales and incredible artwork.

Disney had originally intended a Rocketeer trilogy but the weak box office killed the idea. Over the years, though, the film has built up a following, and is finally coming to Blu-Ray in December with a (hopefully packed) 20th anniversary edition. With the success of Captain America, and Johnston’s recent statement that he’d love to make another Rocketeer movie, I’d say it’s time for Cliff Secord to return to action. Joe, bring back Billy Campbell and Jennifer Connelly, set the film in 1958, and give me a call. I’m ready to write the script.

Based on Lee Falk’s long-running comic strip, The Phantom is admittedly goofy, and even campy, but it works. It just does. It’s loopy fun, with great serial-inspired action, a bold and square-jawed hero (Billy Zane), wildly over-the-top bad guys (led by Treat Williams), a pair of sexy dames (Kristy Swanson and Catherine Zeta-Jones), and an appropriately pulpy story full of dashing heroism and mystical McGuffins.


These flicks, and the superb Mike Mignola comics which inspired them, are pure pulp goodness all the way through. Timeless evil, dark Lovecraftian gods, monstrous Nazis, secret government organizations, vicious demons, all manner of eldritch goings-on…

And a hulking red demon hero in a trenchcoat, chomping a cigar, making smart-ass quips as he goes toe-to-toe with Cthulhu’s brood and tries desperately not to fulfill his destiny, which is to be an integral participant in the Apocalypse.

There’s so much to say about Hellboy, both on film and in the comics, that I’m having trouble organizing my thoughts to write them down. On the page, Mignola’s art is shadowy and impressionistic and Kirby-esque and wholly distinctive; nobody else draws like Mignola. His storytelling is equal parts adventure and myth, and reading the comics feels like reading a heroic pulp story and a folk tale at the same time. Mignola starts in the realms of folklore and builds his stories the way a good shaman would build a lesson tale.

(For more Mignola goodness, check out Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire for which he did the visual design, which is itself a great pulp flick).

Guillermo del Toro, like Joe Johnston, is another director with respect for his source material. The movies are full of Mignola’s wit and imagination (and indeed, Mignola was deeply involved in production). But del Toro, whose oeuvre includes intelligent, visually creative works like Pan’s Labyrinth (which itself explored real world fascism through a lens of fairy tale), brings his own brilliance and vision to the work. The result is not just good pulp adventure movies, but damn good films.

Kind of. The first flick, Hellboy, doesn’t quite reach damn good status. Del Toro had a small budget and lots of interference from the studio, which kept him from making the movie he really wanted to make, though the one he did make is still strong and a lot of fun. But Hellboy II…

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is not just a great pulpy horror-adventure flick, it’s one of the greatest fantasy films ever made. Throwing Hellboy and his motley crew into battle with the mystical forces of an ancient race of fae immortals, del Toro has the budget and the clout to give us the movie he wants to give us this time around, giving us not just wit and action and gorgeous and/or horrifying imagery, but a story that’s actually about something: the loss of magic and wildness and nature in the world.

It’s action-packed and breathtaking and funny and lovely and at times genuinely moving. It’s great film-making, great myth-making, great world-making, and, of course, great pulp.

And Ron fucking Perlman? This is the part the man was born to play.

AND NOW, A SPECIAL TREAT…

There is now a group of literary aficionados in New York City who get together and read pulp fiction. But this isn’t just your everyday reading club. It’s called The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, and while reading they take advantage of New York’s wonderful law allowing women to roam topless at will. It was my deep misfortune while visiting friends in NYC recently not to encounter these bibliophiles in the wild, but they have a website where we can all go to enjoy their sun-blessed literary exploits: http://coedtoplesspulpfiction.wordpress.com.

Tim can be found on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/TimByrd
His Blog Under an Outlaw Moon at: http://www.tim-byrd.com
The Official Doc Wilde Website at: http://www.docwilde.com
This entry was posted in A Public Service Post, Awesome, BAD ASS, BEST SELLING AUTHOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA, CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, Commentary, Cool Commentary, COOL CREATOR, Doc Savage, Doc Wilde, Doc Wilde and the Frogs of the Doom, Film, Film Commentary, Film Review, Film Reviews, FRESH ON FRIDAY™, Geek Culture, GREAT COMICS, IMJ Nation™, IMJ REGULAR FEATURE, INTERNATIONAL BEST SELLING AUTHOR, Inveterate Media Junkies™, Inveterate Media Junkies™ Exclusive, Inveterate Media Junkies™ Monthly Column, Inveterate Media Junkies™ Monthly Feature, Inveterate Media Junkies™ Regular Feature, MAINSTREAM BEST SELLERS, Marvel Comics, Marvel Studios, MOVIE POSTER, Movie Review, Movie Reviews, Movies, Opinion, The Pulp Pit™, The Pulp Pit™ with Tim Byrd, Tim Byrd and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to TIM BYRD’s The Pulp Pit™ – TWO-FISTED FLICKAGE Pulp on the Big Screen Part Two

  1. PhilBetaGAMMA says:

    Good 2 see u back here, Tim
    l feel that The Rocketeer just didn’t translate well from comic 2 movie. The movie seemed 2 move very slowly, & the characterization wasn’t enough 2 keep moviegoers intrigued by the goings on. That said, l thought the casting was spot on! Especially Jennifer Conneley’s timeless beauty as Bettie!
    What stands out 2 me w/ The Phantom was that it was no.8 for four or five wks in a row(though that might have been locally) l do remember liking it, but l don’t remember why.
    Never have l wanted 2 see a sequel more, that came from a preceding film that l thought was at best, was average, than HB2! There’s something about that “Pans Lab” vibe, that makes me wanna see this flick, big time!!
    Can’t wait 4 your next installment!
    Be well
    Phil

  2. Bill Crider says:

    Always glad to see a good word for THE PHANTOM, which I loved. Sometimes I think I’m the only one who did, and it’s good to see I’m not.

  3. ArcLight says:

    I’d like to think THE ROCKETEER’s biggest problem was coming out right before TERMINATOR 2, Being released under the Disney banner probably didn’t help it, either. It’s still probably my favorite comic book adaption and I really wish the Blu-ray was out already so I could do a double-feature with it and CAPTAIN AMERICA.

  4. ed2962 says:

    Thanks for this look at these films. I quite enjoyed Hellboy 2. However I never saw Phantom. It seems like it was out for like a day and just disappeared! I remember the got milk ad for it more than any actual trailers!

  5. Stephen B. says:

    I like all your selections. HELLBOY II even had Danny Elfman, and he also did Darkman, which, in many ways, is an homage to THE SHADOW which Raimi wanted to or planned as a project long ago.

    Also, RAIDERS (from earlier post you wrote) stands in my book as one of the 14 or 15 greatest films since my childhood days. There are not a lot of great pulp-type films that flow like that movie!

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