To Walk the Night

To Walk the Night
William Sloane | Bantam Books | 1967 | 181 pages

Told primarily in a lengthy flashback, Berkeley (Bark) Jones recounts the strange story leading up to his best friend Jerry’s shocking suicide. Recapping the events of the last few months to Jerry’s father, Dr. Lister, Bark begins with the day of the “Big Game”.

Visiting their alma mater for a major football game with a rival team, Jerry convinces Bark to visit Professor LeNormand, Jerry’s mentor during his university days. LeNormand, an academic outcast who made many professional enemies with his controversial critique of Einstein’s Space-Time Continuum, lives an isolated existence in the university’s observatory. Upon their arrival, Bark and Jerry discover the still-smoldering remains of LeNormand, burned alive in his office chair.

The police are baffled by the circumstances of LeNormand’s death, but allow Bark and Jerry to return to New York City. Before they leave, however, they are shocked to learn that the stridently anti-social professor had married shortly before his death. Equally puzzling is Selena LeNormand herself, an alluringly beautiful, but strangely remote woman with seemingly no past life before her marriage.

Selena does not act like a grieving widow, and Bark is suspicious of her strange character and removed, out-of-sorts behavior. Jerry, however, immediately falls under Selena’s spell, and within a few weeks the couple become engaged.

With the compelling mystery of LeNormand’s death at its core, and the knowledge of Jerry’s suicide to come, To Walk the Night builds up the case for Selena’s implication through the accumulation of Bark’s small suspicions during his account to Dr. Lister. Although Bark’s tale ultimately leads to an expected conclusion, Selena’s role as a potential femme fatale leads to the examination of many individual clues as evidence of a greater, sinister purpose.

Beyond any potential cosmic or supernatural horror, however, Selena’s arrival succeeds as a drama describing the tension and insidious jealousy when a new romantic partner divides an existing male friendship. As roommates, Bark and Jerry behave like a married couple, cooking, traveling, and having picnics together. An exotic outsider changes a familiar dynamic, leaving one party resentful and full of recrimination.

Viewed as such, this disruptive template is recognizable in other stories of couple dynamics. For example, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and the Beatles—except for the:

***SPOILER***
breach in space/time and invasive, otherworldly presence

***END SPOILER***

Although, there are probably some who would still dubiously argue even those points.

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The Torture Trust

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The Torture Trust (Secret Agent X #1)
Brant House | Corinth Books | 1966 | 160 pages

Originally written in the thirties for a pulp magazine, several of the initial Secret Agent X series titles were reprinted by Corinth Books in the sixties. The never-named crime-fighting agent is a master of disguise, infiltrating and destroying criminal operations with his exceptional skills and ingenious gadgetry. Agent X is driven by a personal moral code, and is reviled by the police force as well as the criminal world. Intrepid newspaper reporter, Betty Dale, occasionally assists him in his campaign against evil, but she remains unaware of his true identity.

Investigating a string of acid-attack murders attributed to a cabal of villains known collectively as the Torture Trust, Secret Agent X assumes the identity of a low-level criminal to make contact with the group. Shadowing one of the black-robed members of the evil triad following an arranged secret meeting, X trails him back to an unremarkable house in the suburbs. Breaking into the man’s study, X discovers him to be Ronald Morvay, professor of psychology. Determined to uncover the motives of the Torture Trust and bring its remaining members to justice, X pursues a dangerous course of impersonations to infiltrate its inner core.

The biggest thrills in The Torture Trust derive from repeatedly placing its hero in impossible situations, trapped without hope of escape, that require use of his genius for quick-change disguise, or implementation of his unique arsenal of gadgetry. Whether caught in a police lock-down following a nightclub murder, or trapped in the secret headquarters of a criminal organization, Secret Agent X must utilize all the skills of his trade to free himself and keep his identity from being revealed. Conforming to serial adventure genre tropes, X must also rescue his colleague, Betty Dale, who is (naturally) kidnapped during the course of his investigation.

Although a certain suspension of disbelief is required regarding the equipment X must hide on his person to facilitate some of his high-wire persona changes (even Batman’s utility belt must surely pale in comparison), the pulpy fun of the escape scenarios more than compensates for the narrative convenience of having “just the right item” at hand.

Occasional footnotes by the author provide an almost exposé-like context for some of the agent’s exploits. We learn that X rarely eats regular food, but rather synthetic meals in pill form. He utilizes a radium-based paint to taunt his enemies (and the police), with the graphic letter “X” appearing on walls and phony business cards in his wake. Further, he possesses a moral code to never kill, equipping a gas gun and paralysis dart (in his shoe) that debilitates, rather than kills, his targets.

Establishing the groundwork for the series to come, The Torture Trust mixes elements from the adventure, spy, horror, and science fiction genres into a highly entertaining romp.

Turkish Star Wars (The Man Who Saved the World)

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Turkish Star Wars (The Man Who Saved the World)
Cüneyt Arkin | Aytekin Akkaya | Directed by Çetin Inanç | 1982 | 91 minutes

A blaster-hot mess of random edits, recycled musical cues from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and intellectual-property-be-damned scenes stolen directly from the original Star WarsThe Man Who Saved the World delivers a trampoline-jump laden delirium of “bad cinema” delights (depending upon your love of cinema cheese, or, if applicable, your level of intoxication).

After a rambling, nonsensical introduction–with repeated use of stock footage–detailing the destruction of Earth, our two Turkish heroes, Murat (Cüneyt Arkin) and Ali (Aytekin Akkaya), engage in a dogfight against a literal backdrop of projected scenes from Star Wars. Seemingly shot down (perhaps by Rebel fighters, Imperial fighters, or maybe even the Millennium Falcon), the pair instead find themselves on a vaguely Tatooine-like planet. An evil overlord called the the Magician takes responsibility for their teleportation, boasting of his immortal powers and detailing his plans to harness the power of their brains to take over the Earth–wait, wasn’t that already destroyed in the prologue?

Beyond a requisite cantina scene featuring some chop-socky action against actors wearing fur suits, the story eventually drifts away from the Star Wars source material. Murat and Ali jump and kick their way through a host of other rubber- and fur-suited enemies, but only after a long training session jumping and kicking boulders, some of which inexplicably explode upon impact. In a pocket of preserved ancient Earth religious artifacts, Murat discovers a tiny, discolored brain and magic sword (cardboard lightsaber, if you prefer) that grant him the power to ultimately defeat the Magician.

Preferring to melt down the sword into a powerful pair of bronze-colored gloves, Murat punches his way through another series of masked and suited enemies, frequently using his newfound powers to tear off their furry arms and use their severed limbs as fatal weapons. The fate of the Earth (will it be destroyed, again?) hangs in the balance as he finally confronts the Magician (who unfortunately never delivers the line, “Murat, I am your father.”), with scenes of the Death Star and random X-wing fighters projected in the background.

In the epilogue, Murat blasts off in the Millennium Falcon, perfectly summing up the nature of the human condition:

“There wouldn’t be humans without the World, and a World without humans…because humanity is the most important thing in the Universe.”

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Night Gallery – Room with a View / The Little Black Bag / The Nature of the Enemy

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Night Gallery | Season One | Episode 2 | December 23, 1970

Segment One | Room with a View

This short, chatty segment stars Diane Keaton as an impressionable young nurse manipulated by her patient into exacting revenge upon his unfaithful wife. Although a violent encounter in the nurse’s recent past is mentioned briefly, the jump to the denouement is a quick one—especially considering the romantic fulcrum is a hairy-chested chauffeur. A brief glimpse of an amazing pair of ladies’ flair-leg trousers in motion serves as a fashion bonus.

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Segment Two | The Little Black Bag

An accident during a time travel experiment in the distant future—a future looking suspiciously like a poorly furnished apartment—sends an advanced medical kit back in time, where it is discovered by a down-on-his-luck ex-doctor on skid row. Burgess Meredith plays it up as a pickled hobo searching for redemption, but his booze-hound pal wants the eight dollars offered for the bag by the local pawn shop to start his next bender. The bit about the bag’s trans-temporal monitoring system is pure hokum, since a self-destruct option—if at all possible— would have been employed immediately.

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Segment Three | The Nature of the Enemy

NASA Mission Control watches a broadcast from a rescue mission on the moon, where one spacecraft has crashed and another has gone missing. The rescue team discovers a strange assemblage made of the ruined ship, leading to the wildly groan-inducing reveal of ***SPOILERS*** Mousetraps in Space! ***END SPOILERS***

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