VISIT TO A WEIRD PLANET REVISITED

By Barbara Peterson



I'm a fan of the original Star Trek. Many years ago, I bought a book containing the best fanzine fiction of Star Trek (I'd never heard of fanzines until then). One of the stories was called Visit to A Weird Planet Revisited. The plot was that actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly are filming an episodes, they step onto the transporter platforms and pose for a shot - but instead they are really beamed aboard the Enterprise (while their counterparts end up on the 'real' Earth. On the Enterprise, they're under Klingon attack, and the actors have to pretend to be their characters and save the day. It was very well written, and absolutely hilarious.

That explains the title for this section of book reviews. Here you'll find reviews to books which feature real-life actors, directors, and other cinema personalities (if any) as characters. Not necessarily in the science fiction vein, where they've stepped into their own movies (although I'm sure there are a few fanzines around where that happens), but just as characters that authors thought you might like to meet.

Novels

Destiny Express- Fritz Lang
Father of Frankenstein- James Whale
Pandaemonium- Peter Lorre

Mysteries

Crime on My Hands- George Sanders
The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case- William Powell and Myrna Loy
The Black Mask Murders- Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardener
The Marble Orchard- Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardener


Novels

Destiny Express, Howard Rodman, Atheneum. 1990.

I haven't read this book yet, but I've got it on order. I've included it here in case any fans of Fritz Lang want to get it without having to wait for someone to review it. It's out of print, but Amazon.com has a search service, so let them go for it if you're interested. I'll be publishing a review once I've received it. I first read of its existence in Fritz Lang, The Nature of the Beast. In that book, it's described thusly...''In Howard Rodman's fascinating if biographically inexact novel Destiny Express, which dramatizes Lang's final days in Berlin, the director is shown lingering in Germany, working on 'Die Legende von letzten Wiener Fiaker' ('The Legend of the Last Vienna Fiaker') while contemplating his flight from Hitler. The novel's Fritz Lan also has communist leanings, and is painfully in love with Thea von Harbou, who is having an affair with a mysterious left-wing American.'' Sounds like fun!

You can order this book through Amazon.com by clicking HERE.

Father of Frankenstein, Christopher Bram. E.P. Dutton. 1995

I've read this one! James Whale was an English director, most well known for Frankenstein in 1931, The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man. He made many more movies after those, of course, but never quite achieved their success, due to studio meddling with his films. Then, he had a stroke, felt that his mind was going and did not want to live in such a condition, so committed suicide by drowning himself in his pool. (His death is a bit of a mystery since no suicide note was ever officially found - some people say he may have been murdered).

This book is a fictional account of Whale's last days. It's very well written, a psychological novel that lets you empathize with the character. Whale was gay and this of course informs his character at all times. In the '30s it was politic to hide your orientation, Whale scorned to do so. As a psychological study, as the possible solution to a mystery, as a 'gay' book, this is a good read.

You can read other reviews of this title, or order it in hardcover, by clicking HERE.
If you'd rather check it out in a less expensive paperback, try HERE.

Pandaemonium, Lotte Eisner, De Capo Press. 1976.

Another book whose existence I just found out about a couple of days ago, and which I've got on order. (I'm halfway around the world from an English language book store).

Here's the plot synopsis published by Amazon.com: Pandaemonium was John Milton's invention, the capital of Hell where one of literature's great antiheroes, Satan, ruled his mob of fallen angels. Pandaemonium is Leslie Epstein's invention, a fevered mix of highbrow literary references wrapped in lowbrow comedy, a place where Hollywood directors mingle with German dictators, resulting in--well, you know. The novel's narrators are pulled straight from Hollywood history; the first, actor Peter Lorre, relates the events surrounding a performance of Antigone scheduled to be staged in Salzburg shortly before the Anschluss. Lorre, cast as Antigone's groom opposite the alluring Magda Mezaray, hopes this performance will release him from the string of B movies in which he starred as Japanese detective Mr. Moto. His hopes are dashed when the play is interrupted by an assassination attempt on one of the spectators, Adolph Hitler himself. The play's director, Rudolph Von Beckmann, is held responsible and taken to Vienna to explain things to Joseph Goebbels.

Pandaemonium then returns to Hollywood where, upon his return from an internment camp in Europe, Von Beckmann's plans to make a great Western become inextricably tangled with labyrinthine studio politics and Lorre's attempts to shed his association with Mr. Moto. The second narrator, gossip columnist Louella Parsons, takes up the tale, chronicling Lorre and Von Beckmann's return to Europe in search of Magda. By the time Epstein reaches the filming of Von Beckmann's Western, his fictional landscape resembles Milton's Hell very closely indeed. Pandaemonium is funny, ambitious, and makes for wickedly good reading.

Now this sounds like it's going to be a great book! Unfortunately, it is a fact that Peter Lorre hated his Mr. Moto movies, which I find pretty disappointing because they are some of my favorites! I've got them all on tape and have a Mr. Moto night every now and again.

So, I'll publish a review once I get the book. If you dont want to wait til then, click HERE. A few people have published reviews. They seemed to be mixed - I'll decide for myself once I get the book!

Mysteries

Crime on My Hands, George Sanders. St. Martin's Press, 1994.

Actually, this book was ghostwritten by Craig Rice (author of the John J. Malone - shyster lawyer mysteries), but it doesn't matter. You'd be willing to bet it was written by Sanders. He's making a Saint movie, a murder occurs on the set, he has to solve it quickly, and does. George Sanders is one of my favorite actors and this book is absolutely hilarious, and a fun read. This book is out of print at the moment (it was reprinted about 8 years ago as a paperback) - but let Amazon.com search for it for you. They say it takes 1-3 months to find out of print books. Time 'em!

Order Crime on My HandsHERE.

William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case, George Baxt

In this eleventh entry in Baxt's movie-themed murder series, William Powell and Myrna Loy slide easily from their onscreen romps as Nick and Nora Charles to "real life" detection. Claire Young, Hollywood's madam to the stars, has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. To collect a sizable nest egg for her young son, she leaks to the gossip columnists that she's kept a list of her notable clients and that she may have to write her memoirs to earn some money. Claire's risky game of not-so-subtle blackmail leads directly to the murder of her two closest friends. Nick and Nora (excuse me, Bill and Myrna) invite themselves into the case on the strength of their celluloid crime-fighting experience and Myrna's impeccable intuition. Baxt's caricature of the notoriously histrionic Louis B. Mayer will amuse all movie buffs, and his acid-tipped takes on Gable and Chaplin will have their ghosts looking for libel lawyers. This is an utterly unbelievable but thoroughly entertaining romp through a Hollywood that never really existed, except perhaps in its own mind. (Copyright� 1996, American Library Association. All rights reserved).

Order The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case HERE.

The Black Mask Murders, William F. Nolan, St.Martins, 1994.

Dashiell Hammett was a real-life detective as well as the author of several classic detective novels, including The Maltese Falcon. Now he's also a fictional character, the narrator of this series debut that also features two of Hammett's fellow contributors to Black Mask magazine, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler. The real author, William Nolan, is a scholar of Black Mask-era fiction and the author of Hammett: Life at the Edge (1987). Set in Hollywood shortly before the appearance of the Falcon movie, the story finds Hammett asked to deliver a jewel-encrusted ruby to a local mobster. A shootout occurs, and the bad guy gets the icon and the girl for which it was to serve as ransom. Hammett, Gardner, and Chandler work to recover both the jewel and the girl. Nolan mixes as many biographical facts into the narrative as possible, serving up a healthy portion of literary history along with the action. There's gunplay, humor, and just enough realism to humanize Hammett and his cronies. The premise may ultimately wear thin, but for now, it's perfectly good fun for the hard-boiled crowd. (Review Copyright� 1994, American Library Association. All rights reserved. )

You can order this book through Amazon.com by clicking HERE.

The Marble Orchard, William F. Nolan, St. Martins, 1996

The Black Mask boys are back, and that's a cause for celebration. Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner, introduced as detectives in Nolan's Black Mask Murders (1994), track down the murderer of Chandler's wife's first husband, Julian, who has apparently committed ritual suicide in a Chinese cemetery. Cissy Chandler, not buying the suicide story, puts her husband on the case. Chandler follows Julian's trail to horror-movie actress Carmilla Blastok, who leads the writerly sleuth to a thug named Enright, who may have killed Carmilla's sister. When Chandler gets in over his head, he calls his Black Mask cronies for help. Along the way, Charlie Chaplin, William Randolph Hearst, and Orson Welles also make cameo appearances. Nolan has obviously researched the Hollywood of the 1930s thoroughly; his backgrounds are always convincing, even when you don't believe the foreground for a minute. Entertaining for nostalgia buffs. (Copyright� 1996, American Library Association. All rights reserved) You can order this book through Amazon.com by clicking HERE.

For reviews of Film Books, go to Film Book Reviews.

For reviews of mystery books that evoke the times of the '20s-'40's, or for information on how to purchase them, go to Dated Death.

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