Friday, 22 May 2009

The Damned
(Joseph Losey, 1961)

If you take popular culture as your yardstick, it is easy to conclude that Britain during the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s was a pretty strange place. Perhaps it is simply due to a weird nostalgia for our parents era, or for the ghosts of the kind of society that was fading out through our own childhoods, but whatever – it is hardly news that the generation currently in their 20s and 30s have imbued the more evocative aspects of that whole era’s film, TV, design, architecture, radio, literature etc. with an inescapable aura of rich, fetishized, near mystical weirdness.

From old Dr. Who episodes and the original Quatermass & The Pit through to movies ranging from ‘Kes’ to ‘Psychomania’ to ‘O Lucky Man’ to ‘Blood On Satan’s Claw’, to old BBC test patterns, ‘60s Penguin paperback designs, back issues of the Moorcock-era ‘New Worlds’, to new build polytechnics, ‘Watership Down’, Sandy Denny and the bloody shipping forecast, all these and much, much more are touchstones in a vast network of interconnecting reference points creating a psychotronic alternate Britain – mass subterranean nostalgia on a grand scale, enough of it keep the likes of Andy Votel and Johnny Truck cackling in basements for their entire lives, uncaring of whatever may have transpired since 1985. Not that I’m immune of course, as a card-carrying fan of all of the above (bar maybe the polytechnics); give me a white Bakelite typewriter to play with and some weird quota quickies about Telly Savalas visiting Birmingham, and I’ll be happy as larry. And I mean, I wasn’t even BORN until after Thatcher was elected. Whatever the indefinable textural appeal of Old Weird England is, it doesn’t seem to be fading as new generations with no actual memories of this era whatsoever take up the flame. Dare we say, it’s actually CATCHING.

In recent years, new creative endeavours arising from this morass of whatever (primarily in the musical sphere) have been dubbed ‘hauntology’. Slightly contrived and overly portentous I suppose, but as catch-all phrases go it’s not bad, and I guess it gets more bums on seats than just opening up a psycho-media studies department next door to psychogeography in the nighthaunted polytechnic of our dreams.

(And hey, when do we get around to ‘psychohistory’, the discipline that, as I recall, the dude in Asimov’s Foundation books used to scientifically predict the future or whatever it was? After that, what say we really freak out the square with some psycho-biology…)

But I digress; point is, oh my hauntological brethren, we have here a rarely seen film so rich in authentic British weirdness and such, it’s surprising that it hasn’t managed to yet bag itself a prime spot in the pantheon discussed above: Joseph Losey’s ‘The Damned’.

Director Losey was actually an American, who began his career in the theatre, working with Bertholt Brecht before moving on to cinema to helm a variety of low budget dramas and crime movies, before being blacklisted in Hollywood for refusing to testify before the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Relocating to the UK, he proceeded to ingratiate himself with the British film industry, making a sporadic series of films of reportedly highly variable quality over the years, apparently countering accusations that none of them ever made a farthing by stressing his uncompromising approach and his rejection of Hollywood formula.

Both of these boasts, and probably HUAC’s interest in the guy as well, are certainly borne out by ‘The Damned’, produced for (oh yes) Hammer at the dawn of the ‘60s, with results deemed so unpalatable to a contemporary audience that the film didn’t actually see the light of day until it received a limited, and heavily edited, American release in ’65 (when ‘These are..’ got appended to the title).

Perhaps initially born from an attempt to cash in Wolf Rilla’s adaptation of John Wyndham’s ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’ into ‘Village of the Damned’ the previous year, ‘The Damned’ is loosely based on H.L. Lawrence’s novel ‘The Children of the Light’, but Losey and screenwriter Evan Jones expand significantly on the expectations of their precursors, turning in an film that presents a unique mixture of chilling, anti-authoritarian cold war science fiction and teenage-orientated juvenile delinquency high-jinks, set against the backdrop of an authentically dilapidated South Coast seaside resort.

Filmed primarily on location in and around Weymouth, the films setting captures a sense of the town’s reality that can’t be faked, and which, combined with the definitive UNreality of the film’s characters and events, creates an atmosphere that is by turns eerie and positively surreal, whilst still retaining the odd sense of inertia and dislocation I for one have always experienced when visiting similar coastal locales.

After opening with a sombre credit sequence featuring a series of unnerving expressionist sculptures set against windswept cliff tops, we move to Weymouth’s promenade on a sunny afternoon. Joan (Shirley Anne Fields) utters the film’s first line of dialogue, as she strides past the war memorial, a switchblade stuck into her slacks looking like she just stepped off the front of a pulp paperback;

“What’s the matter, you never seen a clocktower before?”

I don’t know about you readers, but I was sold on this film from that moment onwards.

Her remark is aimed at Simon (Macdonald Carey), a world-weary American tourist who seems to have been casually ogling her. The film switches to a silent aerial shot showing the town from overhead as he apparently decides, what the hell, he might as well try his luck, switchblade or no, and follows her down a few streets, attempting to make conversation.

Little does he know, this is the signal for a gang of leatherclad biker/teddyboy guys to set out behind them. Joan leads Simon down a blind alley, where the teds rob him and beat him senseless. Joan looks guilty. “Are you happy in your work Joanie?” sneers one of the gang, and they leg it.

Accompanying this whole sequence is the film’s nominal theme tune, James Bernard’s ‘Black Leather Rock’, a song which is nothing short of insane. Sounding like a middle-aged soundtrack composer’s idea of the kind of music juvenile delinquents might listen to, it consists of a sort of light big band mambo, over which a crooner-like vocalist lustily sings “black leather, black leather, crash crash crash! Black leather, black leather, smash smash smash! Black leather, black leather, kill kill kill!”, etc. The track continues in this vein for several minutes with little in the way of variation. It’s absolutely hilarious, goofy and kinda hypnotic, and seems to be one of the things people remember most about the film.

Anyway, in turns out the biker gang is masterminded by Joan’s sister King (Oliver Reed), who seems to eschew the teddyboy look in favour of a tweed overcoat, driving gloves and a jauntily swung umbrella. Reed, in one of his first significant film roles, casts a magnificently menacing shadow across the film, his portrayal of King as a self-made thug with hidden depths seeming to prefigure Malcolm McDowell’s legendary turn in A Clockwork Orange a decade later to such an extent that it’s hard to believe Kubrick and/or McDowell weren’t looking to this film as a reference point. King’s style and mannerisms seem like a deliberate restatement of conservatism in contrast to his rocker pals, and indeed he seems to stand for a sort of hard-edged puritanism, sneering dismissively at his gang's irresponsible japery whilst enjoying an intense, quasi-incestuous relationship with his sister, controlling her movements and forcibly preventing her from associating with other boys or from having a life outside of the gang.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to the more sinister side of the film’s plotline, in the shape of Bernard (Alexander Knox), a nervous, haunted-looking civil servant who is in charge of a top secret Home Office/M.O.D. project based on the cliffs outside the town. Bernard is taking a spot of tea in a crumbling sea-front hotel with Freya, a bohemian sculptor played by Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors (yes, the cliff-top sculptures in the credits sequence were hers). It seems Bernard is letting Freya live and work in an isolated cabin on M.O.D. land whilst the two enjoy an ambiguous on-off sort of relationship.

Freya seems to like being a bit mean to poor old Bernard, despite his apparent generosity, but when she ribs him about the secrecy of his work (“they say when a civil servant is in danger of losing his top, he just starts stamping everything ‘top secret’..”), he becomes deadly serious, informing her in ice-dripping tones that if her were to utter but one word about his project, it would put her in mortal danger.

So something a bit rum is definitely going on, and indeed, we next see Bernard going about his business in another cliff-top portacabin, where, after the obligatory confrontation with some military hotheads (“I suppose you’d rather raise these children to be damned beatniks!”), he has his science guys set up some broadcasting equipment, and calmly delivers a daily lesson and question & answer session via video link-up to a class of unnaturally pale, well-spoken children who appear to have never seen any other adults, and are utterly ignorant of the outside world. Yes, it seems the British government have their own collection of weird children, whom Bernard is raising in complete isolation in a complex of sterile bunkers within the cliffs, reassuring them that they will have “an important role to play”, “when the time comes”. The children seem pretty bored and unhappy, no longer entirely satisfied with the vague answers they get to their questions. It seems they had a pet rabbit once, but it started to get sleepy, and succumbed to “the black death”. There are a lot of radiation suits hung up in Bernard’s office. What the hell is going on?

Viewers are left to ponder this for quite a while, as we return to our scheduled juvenile delinquent yarn. Joan has apparently decided that Simon, more than just another victim, could represent an opportunity for her to assert her independence from her dominating brother, and returns to visit him on his fishing boat, where he’s chilling Papa Hemingway style, presumably reflecting on how he doesn’t much appreciate having quit his high-powered job and travelled across the Atlantic in search of freedom, just to be bashed in the face by some limey punk with an umbrella the first time he speaks to a dame.

So one thing leads to another, as it is apt to do in the movies, and before we know it Joan and Simon are off on the run, skirting along the South Coast, with a furious King and his gang in hot pursuit, vowing to kill them good & proper.

As you might expect, this night-time chase brings both parties first to Freya’s cabin, where an increasingly psychotic King has a memorably existential showdown with Freya in one of the film’s best scenes, and subsequently across the barbed wire, through a hidden doorway at the base of the cliffs, and into the bowels of ‘the project’, where dark secrets are revealed, and the confused and over-excited children start to see the intruding adults as champions who can assure their escape.

And, in most other films, escape of some kind might be on the cards. But not here, as Losey propels the film’s various strands toward a conclusion so disturbing, chaotic and unremittingly bleak, it’s breathtaking. If the ending of ‘The Damned’, and the political/moral questions it raises, are still chilling and unsettling today (and they are), it is hard to imagine the subversive weight it must have carried in the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is little doubt that this is the main reason such a fine film was shelved for years, only emerging in heavily edited form five years after it was shot.

Losey pulls no punches as, via a succession of increasingly disturbing imagery mixed with Bernard’s self-justifying rhetoric in a manner that seems to hint at the influence of Eisenstein, the film makes clear that nuclear annihilation is inevitable, and that the authorities, in their confused and inadequate preparations for it, are prepared to sacrifice all vestiges of morality and civilisation, in order to ensure that a crippled, mutated new strain of humanity may limp on into the post-nuclear age; a new strain which is already so mortified by the conduct of it’s bungling masters that it is ready to destroy itself rather than march in line.

You’re all fucked, Losey seems to be telling his 1961 audience with deadpan sincerity, and the lies and crack-brained scheming of your government are doing more to drag you toward the brink than the “enemies” and their missiles ever will.

Up to this point, ‘The Damned’ has thrived on ambiguity – it’s a testament to the strength of the intelligent, character-driven script and the fine ensemble performances that the whole thing seems like a real ol’ ripping yarn, despite the fact that none of the relationships between any of the protagonists seem at all stable or healthy, despite the fact that mash-up of different genre conventions renders the film’s tone bizarrely inconsistent, and despite the fact that the audience are kept in the dark about the main details of the plotline through most of the running time.

But, with the film’s conclusion, Joseph Losey really puts his cards on the table, marking himself out as a filmmaker whose radical agenda prefigures not only Kubrick’s work in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but the concerns of other uncompromising British directors such as Peter Watkins and Lindsay Anderson too, and all in the guise of a bizarre teens-on-the-rampage / science fiction flick that’s got to rate as one of the most startling, entertaining and compelling British films of it’s era.

I quite fancy the idea of taking a few trips down to the South Coast this summer. I’d love to hit Weymouth, soak up whatever’s left of the atmosphere, and see whether I can still hear that familiar refrain faintly echoing on the sea breeze….

Black leather, black leather, crash, crash, crash….

Monday, 18 May 2009

Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told
(Jack Hill, 1964)

I realise I’m not exactly reinventing the wheel by writing a review of ‘Spider Baby’. Most self-respecting horror/weirdness fans will have seen it, and those who haven’t will surely be familiar with it via it’s killer rep as a – sigh – “cult classic”.

But, for all that, it is still a film which has never been commercially released in the UK and Europe, a film which is still more frequently referred to in passing than it is actually screened or directly discussed. Thus: I feel the need to write about it.

Perhaps one of the reasons for it's ‘limited’ public exposure, even whilst the movie is established canonical viewing for horror fans, is that ‘Spider Baby’ is lumbered with a plot line that is difficult to summarise without making it sound like a thoroughly ghastly enterprise.

Opening with a shot of the ‘Encyclopaedia of Rare Genetic Diseases’ sitting atop the coffee table, the camera pans up to a rather smug, well-adjusted looking fellow, who proceeds to deliver a monologue regarding the curse of the Merrye family, whose bloodline is subject to a unique hereditary disorder that causes it’s victims’ minds and bodies to effectively deteriorate from puberty onwards, subjecting them dementia and psychopathic behaviour from a young age and eventually reducing them to “a pre-human state of savagery and cannibalism” as they advance into adulthood.

As you might well expect, such an affliction has not exactly made for a happy or healthy family tree, but the remnants of an aristocratic fortune have enabled the family to cling onto SOME sort of existence over the years, and ‘Spider Baby’ proceeds to introduce us to the last survivors of the Merrye lineage, teenage sisters Virginia and Elizabeth and their older brother Ralph, who live alone in ascetic poverty, confined to a crumbling, isolated Californian mansion and cared for by the family’s dedicated chauffer Bruno (Lon Chaney), a man whose vow to protect and raise his late master’s offspring has rendered him scarcely any less maladjusted than his charges.

Realised with rare skill and imagination by writer/director Jack Hill, the whole set up becomes an instant masterpiece of American Gothic, as the bored, disobedient children struggle to scratch a life for themselves out of the detritus left by their doomed ancestors. Raven haired psychopath-in-training Virginia obsessively identifies herself with spiders and bugs, separating edible and poisonous toadstools in the garden and playing her favourite game ‘spider’, filling a room with rotting drapes and crouching near an open window, kitchen knives at the ready. Marginally saner sister Elizabeth meanwhile acts out a slightly satanic parody of a bored schoolgirl, fruitlessly trying to provoke her siblings into hating each other, whilst Ralph is a more overtly monstrous presence; a simple-minded, weirdly lovable beast-man, clambering across the rooftops and hunting cats, Ralph is realised in perfect drooling, gurning form by professional really-weird-lookin’-dude Sid Haig. And, in good, gruesome Lovecraft-via-EC-comics backwoods gothic tradition, the family is completed by the unseen “Uncle Ned” and “Aunt Clara”, who dwell in darkness in the basement, their presence noted largely through ominous growls and scrapes.

A potentially grim scenario for a movie, I’m sure you’ll agree, but the choice of actors charged with bringing this deviant family unit to life easily manages to transcend the potentially tasteless subject matter, each of them offering a performance that is little short of extraordinary. Lon Chaney, who at the time had long been cruelly relegated to the sidelines of even b-movie production thanks to the changing times and his legendarily debilitating alcoholism, manages to put in a real career-best performance here, acting with a dignified solemnity that it’s tragic to think he had hidden within him through the proceeding decades of pisstakes and bit-parts. Apparently Chaney was drawn to the script of ‘Spider Baby’ for personal reasons, seeing the role as reflecting his own experiences caring for troubled teenagers. And indeed, it is from this sort of genuine feeling, rather than from horror movie grotesquery, than Chaney builds Bruno’s character, drawing on a reserve of pathos that, combined with the sort of slow, mannered theatrical performance style that was dying out in cinema by the ‘60s, is almost heartbreaking as he patiently tries to discipline the children, explaining to them yet again that “it’s not good to hate” as they listen doe-eyed, knowing that he hasn’t got the strength to protect them from the outside world for much longer, as they grow older and crazier and the family’s position grows ever more untenable.

Actually, I’ve always had a soft spot for Lon. Somehow, he always managed to come across as a hell of a nice guy and a really gifted actor, even when he was portraying villainous cartoon freaks, and, even moreso than his contemporaries Lugosi and Karloff, I feel his eternal typecasting as “the monster guy” was deeply unfair. It was a brilliant stroke of luck therefore that he found a film as good as ‘Spider Baby’ in which to prove his talents to the world at the tail-end of his career, and boy, does he ever make the best of the opportunity. It’s a shame barely anybody got to see the damn thing within his lifetime.

And if ‘Spider Baby’ brought out the best in Chaney, the casting of 17 year old unknown Jill Banner as Virginia was a stroke of genius. She is, to resort to some much-overused filmic clichés, unforgettable, burning up the screen with an extraordinary combination of genuine dementia, childlike malevolence and warped charisma – one of those performances that seems less like a good acting gig, more like a record of a truly incredible and fascinating person, captured on film and doing her fucking nut, so to speak.

In a certain sense, ‘Spider Baby’ can be seen as a final knife in the belly of the classic Hollywood Noir tradition, and as such, Jill/Virginia manages to perfectly embody the vengeful, shrieking lunatic girl who was always lurking behind the soft focus eyes of our favourite femme fatales, fully unleashed at last thanks to the more brutish aesthetics of ‘60s exploitation flick, with her filthy antique dress, wild eyes, pet tarantula and butcher’s knife in each hand, as the vague spider/liar metaphors of ‘Double Indemnity’ and ‘Angel Face’ are blown up into an actual, literal fucking homemade web, with a spider at the centre expressing a perverse teenage fury that wouldn’t be seen again in popular culture until Lydia Lunch was fronting Teenage Jesus in the late ‘70s. It’s scarcely surprising that the early advertising for ‘Spider Baby’ (what little of it there was under that name) concentrated largely on Banner, billing her as “The Spider Baby” and promising “seductive innocence of Lolita, the savage hunger of a black widow!”

She’d steal the show no question, were Chaney, Haig and Beverly Washburn as Elizabeth not all equalling compelling. If such performances were the only thing ‘Spider Baby’ had going for it, it would still be a pretty unique motion picture, but thankfully the same qualities are reflected in every other aspect of the film’s production too.

There is a telling moment in one of the short documentaries accompanying the DVD in which Jack Hill confesses that, at the time of ‘Spider Baby’ at least, he tended to feel jealous of his friends in the movie business who got to work on more ‘serious’ studio films. Such concerns apparently didn’t stop Hill from subsequently embarking on a long career working with Roger Corman, bringing all manner of sleazy, action-packed craziness to the screen over the following decades. But, bearing the above quote in mind whilst viewing ‘Spider Baby’, it is interesting to note the extent to which Hill relies not on the style and conventions of contemporary horror movies (although ‘Psycho’ certainly exerts an influence), but upon the classic Hollywood stand-bys of solid storytelling, broadly painted emotion and carefully composed, articulate mise en scene. Despite it’s grotesque subject matter and sometimes graphic violence, this helps to give ‘Spider Baby’ a wonderfully old fashioned atmosphere that’s perfectly in keeping with it’s gothic lineage, a proud throwback to an eerier era, much as H.P. Lovecraft’s batty faux-Victorian prose must have been in the 1930s.

Some of the credit for this must be given to Alfred Taylor’s beautiful black & white photography, which, at a time when many horror flicks were moving into the realms of garish technicolor gore, pays tribute to the dense interplay of sunlight and shadow of the best of ‘40s Hollywood, lighting the exterior shots of the Merrye house in such a way that you almost expect Philip Marlowe to stride up the front steps.

(The fact that the guy who DOES stride up the steps, and with whom the audience is encouraged to identify for the film’s opening sequence, is actually disgraced black comic actor Manton Moreland, says a lot for ‘Spider Baby’s status as an impossibly strange one-off – a film that was never going to find a comfortable home in the time/place of it's creation.)

Hill’s direction too is often suitably stately, managing to imbue the Merrye family with an internal logic and a deep sense of recognition and sympathy worthy of a Frank Capra film, albeit one turned on it’s head, as the mantle of lofty, everyman humanity assumed by Jimmy Stewart in Capra’s most memorable films is taken on here by a gang of murderous, damaged outsiders, whose happy isolation is threatened by the venal, cowardly “normals” who intrude upon them. All this nearly thirty years before Tim Burton (you knew he was gonna get a mention somewhere) explored the same themes in a slightly less extreme form in ‘Edward Scissorhands’.

Not everything in ‘Spider Baby’ is flat-out wonderful of course: there are a few moments when the low budget and quick shooting time clearly show through, and other scenes that are just plain goofy, attempting to rope in some bankable exploito fare and just sorta… failing weirdly, as the film’s more genuine feeling of humour and humanism win through. There’s also the fact that when the aforementioned “normals” arrive, although each of the actors does a prerfectly sterling job, they nonetheless somewhat undermine the film’s odd sense of realism by basically acting like they’re hamming it up in a William Castle monster movie… although in a sense, this very lack of depth helps to set them apart from the warmth and empathy generated by the “weirdos”, in way that serves the film’s themes very well.

Overall though, ‘Spider Baby’ is an unlikely masterpiece, a creative triumph for all concerned. Given the love, thought and commitment that was clearly put into the film by cast and crew alike, it remains nigh-on unbelievable that it was written and shot as a drive-in circuit filler under the working title “Cannibal Orgy”. A perfect example of how great, moving, life-changing art can happen when the right elements just happen to come together and throw up sparks, someplace where no one would ever think to look.

There are so many more things to say about ‘Spider Baby’ – I haven’t even yet mentioned Ronald Stein’s amazing, unconventional score, the cartoon credit sequence or Lon Chaney’s utterly bizarro speak-singing ‘theme song’ ; I haven’t got around to discussing how gleefully effective the twist-in-the-tail ending is, despite being so predictable it’s nigh on inevitable. I haven’t discussed how the various sub-plots involving the ‘normal’ visitors are kinda fun in their own right, or found time to riff about the extent to which the life histories of some of this movies cast and crew read like choice examples of California Gothic in their own right (check out Jill Banner’s biog some time), or related the history of how the lay completely unseen for decades, building a legendary word-of-mouth reputation as a lost classic until Hill was eventually forced to effectively steal the negatives of his own film so that he could get a remastered print made to counteract the emergence of terminally degraded VHS bootlegs.

But, I’ve said enough. The fact is, whether you reckon the film is an over-exposed, obvious cult reference point or you’ve never heard of it before in your life, we should give thanks for the fact that anyone with a multi-region DVD player or a boradband connection can now watch ‘Spider Baby’ in full, so I’ll just conclude by recommending you go and do just that - you know where to find it, I'm sure.

Lameness Excuse # 1

Writing about good films, films I really love, for a weblog like this proves challenging. Reviewing trashy films, or flat-out weird films? – sure, great – I can talk about what happens in them, whether or not they were fun, crack wise, go off on a few tangents; job done. Really great films though, unique ones that don’t really fit into any canon or generic framework – they take a bit more effort. I feel the need to do them justice, to explain, to expound, to cross-reference, to fully get to grips with the totality of the elements that make the film special. And, more so than most other art forms, a LOT of different elements go toward making a ninety minute film. It’s a tough gig alright, perhaps going someway toward explaining why, despite it’s many fine and valuable proponents, “film writing” has never really taken off as a self-sustaining, independently entertaining form in quite the same way that “music writing” has, and I’m out of practice at it too.

Added to this, I’ve not had much time on my hands recently, with annoying crap (and probably some good crap) sapping my attentions from all directions as I try to get some quality writing time in, which as you may have noticed has starved this weblog of content a bit recently.

Because you see, a couple of months ago, I sat down at home with a bottle of wine, grabbed a few recently acquired DVDs, and treated myself to what turned out to be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable accidental double bills in recent memory.

Two films that we should rightly have all seen many years ago, but for the uncaring tyranny of PAL/Region 2 DVD/video distribution. Two films made a continent apart with drastically different aesthetics, but that share a very specific theme: that of doomed, unfortunate children locked away from the rest of mankind, to whom they pose an unintentional threat. Two films that are also oddly linked by their status as low budget features that began life as exploitation/’b’ pictures, but ended up venturing into such unexpected, intelligent and engaging directions that they manage to render themselves wholly unique and unrepeatable artistic endeavours. Two films that were both initially punished for their audacity with studio hostility, botched, butchered theatrical releases, decades of neglect, and only a relatively recent rebirth as bone fide “cult classics”.

In short, two of the best films I’ve happened to see in years, and I really would not be able to live with myself if I ended up posting some jokey round-up of the ‘Tombs of the Blind Dead’ sequels or the later Hammer Dracula movies or that god-awful 28 Days Later sequel before I’d at least TRIED to share my profound admiration for these two movies.

First review is above, second one forthcoming.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

FURY, by Henry Kuttner
(Mayflower-Dell, 1966)

Yeah, listen up fatso - this ain’t none of your high falutin’ rocket engine shit – this is a novel of VIOLENCE!

Actually, this book is cobbled together from a 1947 Astounding Science Fiction serial, and seems to be a fairly decent bit of interplanetary heroic fantasy, but I thought Mayflower-Dell’s somewhat unconventional attempt to sell it to the SF audience by accusing them of being pussies deserved to be preserved for the ages.

I don’t know how well it worked out for them, but I don’t recall ever seeing another ‘60s SF paperback packaged like this one; “so you think you got the stomach for it, four-eyes?”