Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

02/14/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 33, Whole Number 2106

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Comments on the 1944 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic

Presentation Category (Short Form, Part 1) (comments by Mark R. Leeper)


by J. Michael Straczynski (book review by Joe Karpierz)

Isaac Asimov (comments by Taras Wolansky)

The 1944 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic Presentation

Category (Long Form) (letter of comment by Kevin R)

Temperature Puzzle (sent by Tom Russell)


(book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Comments on the 1944 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic

Presentation Category (Short Form, Part 1) (comments by Mark

R. Leeper)

The Short Form is for works of 90 minutes or less.  However, works

of 72 minutes or more could be relocated into the Long Form

Category.  These will be individually noted.  Several of the films

below are available on YouTube.

Short Form (Part 1):


Three of the nominees are comedy horror films.  A group of possible

heirs are met in a creepy old mansion for the reading of a will.

One guest is willing to murder to inherit the estate. He may or may

not wear a horrific costume to enhance the horror.  Perhaps best

remembered was 1927's THE CAT AND THE CANARY or its 1939 sound

remake, also named THE CAT AND THE CANARY.  The 1944 examples of

haunted house horror films include THE GIRL WHO DARED, MURDER IN


Long Form.]

"Sherlock Holmes" Films: Prior to 1944 20th Century made two

Sherlock Holmes films, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and THE

ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, both made in 1939.  Basil Rathbone

played Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce played Watson.  Rathbone and

Bruce had a screen chemistry that worked and audiences responded

to.  Universal decided to try using the same two actors in the same

two roles, but they would update the setting to wartime.  Three of

these films took place in wartime England pitting Holmes and Watson

against Nazis.  In 1944 they made SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE PEARL OF


AND THE SPIDER WOMAN.  Universal would lend Holmes's authority to

patriotic speeches for which Rathbone would lapse into rhetoric.

Still the films were generally entertaining.    [SHERLOCK HOLMES

AND THE SCARLET CLAW could be Long Form.]

BLUEBEARD: This actually was one of PRC's most respected

productions.  Director Edgar Ulmer gives his settings the feel of a

Paris set avoided long shots, setting a film in Paris drives up

production costs even if the audience sees only little snatches of

what is supposed to be Paris but is really just a few obvious stage

props.  John Carradine plays the title killer.  BLUEBEARD does not

really work as an account of a serial killing murderer, but

director Ulmer was a talented artist and his work is worth seeing

even if it was created for pittance.  [Could be Long Form.]

THE CLIMAX: The previous year, 1943, Universal had cashed in with

their Technicolor production of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with

Claude Rains. It offered beautiful music and bright, vibrant color.

In 1944 Universal tried that same formula again: strong, saturated

colors, semi-classical music, and tissue-light horror plotting.  It

made an escape for soldiers at war.  Universal wanted to see if

that same formula would work again.  The plot was a combination of

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and SVENGALI.  Sadly, this was not much of a

success for Universal this time.  Probably it was because the film

starred Boris Karloff as the villainous hypnotist--an adequate but

an uninspired choice.  [Could be Long Form.]

CRAZY KNIGHTS: Five or six incompetent comedians play themselves in

a comedy devoid of any humor attempts that work.  It is just one

more comedy of imbeciles in a haunted house.

CRY OF THE WEREWOLF: When Universal was making its horror films,

Columbia was borrowing heavily from the Universal style and giving

Universal a run for its money. One good touch in this, for example,

is that it used real wolves in scenes with werewolves and not

people in yak-hair wigs.  The story is not great, but it does have

its moments.  At a slight 63 minutes it was a decent use of its

time.  Notice the cast included popular gangster actor Barton

MacLane and Nina Foch.

THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE: Even though RKO had the extreme but

unappreciated luck of having director Val Lewton working for them,

they always insisted they would pick the title of the next Lewton

film.  Lewton was never consulted on the choice.  CAT PEOPLE had

been such an assignment.  Then Lewton was told he would make a

sequel.  In spite of a short reference in the script of THE CURSE

OF CAT PEOPLE, Lewton wrote a strange little story about the good

and bad that children can create for themselves and others who are

under the influence of fantasy, but THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE had

nothing much to do with CAT PEOPLE.

DEAD MAN'S EYES: This was an "Inner Sanctum" murder mystery.

Universal, running out of material, turned to "Inner Sanctum", a

mystery book-of-the-month book club.  The mysteries all starred a

perpetually miscast Lon Chaney, Jr.  DEAD MAN'S EYES was an "Inner

Sanctum" mystery.

DESTINY: This story from Universal was originally planned to be a

segment of the anthology film FLESH AND FANTASY.  It was a little

overly sentimental for that film, combining elements of LES

MISERABLES and GREEN MANSIONS.  Cliff is running from the police as

the film opens.  His life keeps falling into chapters with him

running from the police, and he repeatedly betrays people or is

betrayed by others but he refuses to abandon his wicked ways.  Then

he finds a valley that is somehow attuned to a blind girl who lives

peacefully with nature.  The director, Reginald Le Borg, who also

directed several of Universal's lesser horror films of the caliber

of JUNGLE WOMAN, directs the film.

I will conclude next week.  [-mrl]



J. Michael Straczynski (copyright 2019, Harper Voyager, 462pp,

ASIN: B07F13YLYH, ISBN-10: 006285786X, ISBN-13: 978-0062857866)

(book review by Joe Karpierz)

There's a subtitle to this book, which really kind of says it all

about the life of J. Michael Straczynski, probably most well known

as the creator of BABYLON 5, and it goes like this: "With Stops

Along the Way at Murder, Madness, Mayhem, Movie Stars, Cults,

Slums, Sociopaths, and War Crimes".  Sadly, none of this is

exaggeration or anything of the sort.  If you want a summary of all

that, JMS, as he is known, has a nice summary of the book on his

Twitter feed from back when it was just about to be released.  The

subtitle is a succinct overview of that summary and of the book.

It's likely that some of what I say will be a rehash of that

summary (no, I don't have it open as I write this), but it==and the

book - does shed a light on what made JMS the writer that he


My first encounter with JMS was, as maybe for a lot of people, with

BABYLON 5, his seminal work and which I'm positive will be what he

is known for long after everything else he's done has been

forgotten.  I really didn't know much about his work prior to

BABYLON 5, although I did my best to keep up with what he did after

the show ended its run back in the late 1990s.  BECOMING SUPERMAN

does its due diligence in recounting all the things that he has

worked on in television, movies, and comic books.  As examples, in

comics he did a seven-year run on "The Amazing Spiderman" (which to

this day I still have all the issues of), a run on "Superman"

itself, as well as other books, including his own line of comics.

Television?  Too many to count, I think.  Most people know about

the BABYLON 5 follow-up, CRUSADE, as well as JEREMIAH and SENSE8

(which I have, sadly, yet to see any of).  I'm sure there are some

folks out there know that he worked on JAKE AND THE FATMAN, MURDER

SHE WROTE, and a revival of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, for which he wrote a

script from a Rod Serling outline.  He worked on many cartoons,

including SHE-RA and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.  In movies, he's

worked on several genre movies, and wrote the screenplay for

CHANGELING, a movie directed by Clint Eastwood and starring

Angelina Jolie, a result of years of research from back in the day

when he was a journalist.

But BECOMING SUPERMAN is more than just list all the above

accomplishments, the kind of list most autobiographies contain. It

is a story of a family that is about as dysfunctional and violent

as I have ever heard of, and how that family life shaped JMS into

the writer he has become.  His father was a violent drunk, who beat

his mother and him on a regular basis, and who has a deep, dark

secret from his past that is just barely hinted at in the subtitle

to the book.  Aside from the war crimes, Charles Straczynski was a

criminal who evaded the law by moving all over the country for

years.  JMS never really had a solid home because of this.  He

eventually tried to escape by various means (insert the "cults"

here), and eventually did get away.

But it's not all bad and sad stuff.  His youth, while stunting his

social growth, also by necessity turned him into a persistent and

stubborn individual who never gave up, and who never compromised

his principles.  Those uncompromising principles are on full

display as he gained a reputation in Hollywood for being difficult

to work with.  He left JEREMIAH, CRUSADE, and other shows due to

what he saw as interference in telling the story he wanted to tell

(there is advice from a revered writer to this effect, advice which

he took to heart but at the same time led to him being difficult

while  simultaneously helped him become a successful writer), but

when left alone to tell the story he wanted to tell, a classic was

born in BABYLON 5.

Clearly there's a lot more to the story than I've talked about

here.  I didn't know much about the life of JMS before I read

BECOMING SUPERMAN, but as it turns out, there's a good reason for

that.  The family didn't want to talk about its secrets because of

just how heinous they were.  Once JMS decided to break the family

silence, it all came pouring out in this book.  Quite frankly, what

he went through would have demoralized most people to the point of

giving up.  BECOMING SUPERMAN is the tale of a man who did not give

up, and the science fiction world is better for it.  It's riveting

reading.  At times it's not very pleasant.  At times it's

uplifting.  But it lets the world know that a person can overcome

terrible hardships and become whatever they want to be. I think we

all need that kind of story now and again.  [-jak]


TOPIC: Isaac Asimov (comments by Taras Wolansky)

Taras Wolansky writes:

The January, 2020 issue of the Mensa Bulletin includes several

letters recalling encounters with Isaac Asimov, who had been Mensa

International's Honorary Vice President for many years.

The longest letter, by a long-time member named Betty Claire,

describes her encounter with Asimov, in New York in the early

1980's, following a presentation he gave on the then-novel theory

that an asteroid impact had caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

"I ... handed him the little 3x5 spiral-bound notebook I carried

with me. He took it and in 10 seconds had written a quite dirty

limerick based on my name.  As he handed the notebook back to me, I

felt a sharp tweak of my left nipple.  The notebook had covered his

hand, and I could not at the moment fathom what it happened to my

nipple. ... There was no expression on his face; his wife was right

there by his side.  How could he do what I thought if he were also

holding the notebook?  I couldn't believe what he had done.  It was

against all common sense that this famous man should tweak my

nipple.  I was in shock.

"The audacity of his act should have been met with a swift smack

across his face.  What if I was wrong, I thought, and my nipple

pinched itself?  I did nothing.

"Evidently Asimov had developed admirable sleight-of-hand skills in

pursuit of his avocation!  Comparing notes with other women who

were there, Claire discovered she was only the first among many

victims:  'Surreptitious pats on the behind, with no expression on

his face ...'"  [-bc]

In light of the defenestration of H. P. Lovecraft and John

W. Campbell, merely for voicing unpalatable opinions, should

Asimov's name still reside on the leading SF magazine's cover, in

spite of his habit of molesting women?

Because, like Harvey Weinstein, Asimov would often make the

appropriate feminist noises, are we to ignore his actual behavior?

What do you think?  [-tw]


TOPIC: Temperature Puzzle (sent by Tom Russell)

There is a certain weather-reporting system which includes

temperature-sensing devices and temperature-displaying devices.

The display devices show the temperature as an integer number of

degrees Fahrenheit.  The sensors are much more precise; the display

devices round off the input from the sensors.

When I checked the temperature yesterday for a place we had visited

this past September, I thought, "Aha, interesting: the actual

temperature must be just slightly below what is displayed."  What

was displayed?  [-tr]

[The answer will appear next week.]


TOPIC: The 1944 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic Presentation

Category (Long Form) (letter of comment by Kevin R)

In response to Mark's comments on the 1944 Retro Hugo nominations

in the Dramatic Presentation Category (Long Form) in the 02/07/20

issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:

[Re Captain America:]

It's fitting that a character published by Martin Goodman, who

never saw a trend he wouldn't copy. nor a best-seller he wouldn't

knock off, would use a "borrowed" threat in Chapter 1.

"Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe" 1940, Chapter 1:


"The Purple Death!"

"The Scarab" was after both the "'Dynamic Vibrator' and 'Electronic

Firebolt', devices that could be used as super-weapons."




So, those are sfnal.

Fans of Golden Age comics may know that Captain America was not the

first patriotic hero in four colors.  Quality Comics had brought a

James Montgomery Flagg-ish UNCLE SAM to life in 1940, but not

before MLJ (Archie comics that would be) brought out THE SHIELD!


PEP COMICS #1 had the G-Man Extraordinary, while Unc debuted in



Timely (Marvel as would be) changed the shape of Cap's shield from

the heater on the cover of CA #1 ...


... to the more famous rotella/targe one he could improbably hurl,

under legal threat by the MLJ partners.

Both the design of the Shield's costume, and of Cap's first shield

were meant to put one in mind of the USA's coat of arms.


"Grant Gardner" wasn't issued a shield, other than on his belt

buckle.  The stunt crew probably couldn't make it work for what

Republic was willing to spend.  At least "Gardner" was able to ride

a motorcycle, even if he didn't have a sidekick on the back or in a

sidecar mowing down Ratzis with a Thompson.


No super-soldier serum is used to explain the Star-Spangled

Avenger's fighting prowess, and Purcell is closer to Adam West then

Chris Reeve when in the long-john bunting.  [-kr]


TOPIC: This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


(Harper Perennial, ISBN 978-0-06-242565-2) is a collection of about

two hundred short essays on machine intelligence.  It is definitely

the sort of book one reads only a bit of at a time, but I have some

comments even after reading just a half dozen essays.  (Quelle


For example, Murray Shanahan says, "Surely nothing would count as

having human-level intelligence unless it has language, and the

chief use of human language is to talk about the world."  There are

at least three assumptions here, all (to my mind) questionable.

First, there is nothing "sure" about saying that human-level

intelligence requires language, especially since Shanahan has not

defined "intelligence", let alone "human-level" intelligence.

Apparently he does not think that infants have human-level

intelligence, so he must think intelligence is not innate, but

acquired, but this is not a universal belief.  Secondly, he assumes

we can define language, which is notoriously hard to do,

particularly when some of the people defining it seem to be trying

a priori to limit language to humans.  As an example, the first

widely accepted definition did not consider American sign language

to be language.  And thirdly, he seems to feel that since "the

chief use of human language is to talk about the world," we must

measure all languages against that metric.  Needless to say, by

this point I was unlikely to find conclusions based on these

assumptions convincing.

Steve Omohundro writes, "There have been at least twenty-seven

species of hominids, of which we are the only survivors.  We

survived because we found ways to limit our individual drives and

work together cooperatively."  He seems to think that if we can

build machine intelligences with this ability, we will not have to

worry some sort of "machine apocalypse".  What he doesn't add is

that after we learned to work together cooperatively, we used this

ability to wipe out other hominid species, which is why we are the

only survivors.  The idea that merely instilling cooperation among

*machines* is going to help *humans* seems unlikely.

More comments may follow.  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          A bone to the dog is not charity.  Charity is the bone

          shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the


                                          --Jack London