Richard Corben

Speaking of the passing of greats, I was not actively blogging last December when Richard Corben died unexpectedly, after heart surgery. Very sad loss—I was certain he had another ten years of great stuff in him. He was one of those artists whose work never really bowed to the passage of time.

Most people would only know his work because he did the iconic cover for Meat Loaf’s 1977 classic album Bat Out of Hell. And, sadly, a lot of those folks doubtless don’t even know his name.

Bat Out of Hell

From my own collection, here’s a few other things he did. We’ll probably be talking some more about his work soon. RIP, Corb…

Corben Comics

David Bowie’s Toy

As it was the fifth anniversary of DB’s death last month (according to the Nu-Time of the sim we’re now in, at any rate), I was moved to fiddle with an old design idea for his unreleased 2001 album Toy. You can read some background detail on the project here.

I did a version of this cover concept back in 2005, actually six years before the full Toy bootleg leaked… we already had several of the tracks via 2002’s Heathen and its various B-sides. My earlier effort (which I can’t locate offhand) actually used the same source photo I’ve used here (taken by legendary photog Mick Rock circa 2001), but it was very amateurish. So I had a 2021 go at it.

There is a concept to this design, loosely. Because most of the album was new versions of 1960s songs, with just three original songs (two of which later appeared on Heathen), it seemed to me a mixture of retro and early noughties was the ticket. The retro is the slightly trippy feel—I decided the ball bearings David has up to his eyes are actually “Orbs of Insight” or somesuch, generating that trippy effect of past colliding with (then) present. The 2001 aesthetic comes from the overall simplicity—and it seems to me those orangey hues were quite popular at the time. Why, I don’t know. The font is a variant on Barnbrook’s title font for Heathen—Priori.

I hadn’t done any straight design work for ages, so it was fun, and I was happy with the result. For a change. See below also for Mick’s original foto for contrast.

David Bowie - Toy

David Bowie - Toy

Comics: The Dying Craft Of Lettering

I no longer mind being called a Luddite. It might’ve bothered me once. Now, it’s become a lazy catchall slur meant to target anyone who has any kind of reservation about technological ‘progress’—because, after all, progress is an unalloyed good which everyone must believe in like obedient cult members.

(The concept of progress, and/or something being progressive, is not, semantically or in actuality, a good of any kind—or a bad of any kind. It’s a neutral idea that can/should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. For instance, in the negative, pretty much every terminal disease is ‘progressive’.)

Anyhow. I was all for digital tech and online stuff back in the day. And by that, I mean 15+ years ago. Maybe you have to be immersed in something for a while to start seeing the dangers properly. Digital has an insidious tendency to slowly, creepingly replace everything it touches with a digital facsimile. Often as not, the craft or physical actuality it replaces gets killed off completely… or, in cases like, for instance, film being made on film, a few stubborn holdouts will keep the organic original alive (Tarantino, Nolan, etc).

In comics there are a number of aspects you could mention, but let’s focus on LETTERING. To be blunt, digital lettering requires no craft. It’s a form of typsetting. And to any digital letterers out there, SORRY—BUT NOT SORRY. I accept that there’s skill in it—but there’s no craft.

To underline this point, take me. Give me one of those Comicraft fonts, some balloon templates, etc, and my work is indistinguishable from anyone else using same to do their digital lettering.

But hand lettering? I’m absolutely terrible at it. I just don’t have that craft. Don’t tell me this isn’t meaningful. Of course it is.

On top of that, digital lettering kind of SUCKS. It’s so damn sterile. Like so many other digital techniques, it largely or completely removes the human aspect. Some professional digital letterers actually do make two or three variants on their fonts so they can try to fake the letter variations seen in real hand-lettering. It’s superficially effective but it’s also a bit crazy and kinda lame—if you want that imperfection, USE YOUR FUCKING HANDS!

The results of hand-lettering require genuine craft as well as a physical interaction between the artist and the art surface. It’s a tactile thing. I don’t understand why so many people are obsessed with removing that component… from just about… everything. If we’re heading for a post-physical world, you can count me out.

Let’s end with some lettering examples. I don’t have my scanner to hand, so I grabbed a couple off the Web and cropped them down a bit. Firstly, one of the all-time greats in comic book lettering is Artie Simek. He did beautiful, bold, clear work, great sound effects, imaginative titles. He’s a gold standard. This is two tiers of page two of Fantastic Four #102 (1970), lettered by Art. The drawings are by Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott; if you didn’t know that, for shame…

Fantastic Four 102

Secondly, two tiers from Fantastic Four: Antithesis #2 (2020). I don’t even care who did the lettering. It speaks for itself. There’s no comparison. A similar case could be made for the colouring. The artwork itself is fine; it’s by Neal Adams & Mark Farmer… this, BTW, was the nearest Marvel Comics came to publishing a half-decent comic in 2020.

Fantastic Four Antithesis

Thoughts? If you disagree, lemme know!

Inking Gil Kane’s Green Lantern

This is a bit of a reblog from when I first did this inking, back in 2018. (Legacy blog content; not currently online!) I was pleased with how it came out, but this time I thought I’d add the other versions for comparison. My source for Gil’s pencils was Kevin Nowlan’s blog (this post specifically). I really like Kevin’s work but I wanted to try my own spin—which I think came out somewhere between Gil himself and Ralph Reese.

Anyhow, more recently, I found a version actually inked by Gil, too! So that’s an extra interest factor—there are four versions of this piece to look at here! Lemme know what you think!! 🙂

In order: Gil Kane’s pencils; Gil Kane’s own inks; Kevin Nowlan’s inks; my inks.

Green Lantern Gallery cover pencils

Green Lantern Gallery cover GK inks

Green Lantern Gallery cover inks

Gil Kane's Green Lantern Inked by Me

2020 Viewing

I may write in more detail about some of the stuff I watched last year—undecided. But meanwhile, here’s a list of all the vintage episodic TV digested during those long 2020 months of deadly viruses and government scum placing everyone under house arrest.

(And, of course, there is much vintage episodic TV being digested during the unfolding long 2021 months of deadly viruses and government scum placing everyone under house arrest… but more on that later.)

2020 complete viewings…

Hawaii Five-O seasons 1-12 (DVD)
The Twilight Zone seasons 1-5 (Blu-ray)
Night Gallery seasons 1-3 (DVD)
The Outer Limits seasons 1-2 (DVD)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents seasons 1-4 (DVD)
Peaky Blinders series 3 (Blu-ray) (token non-vintage item!)
The Abbott & Costello Show seasons 1-2 (download)
Adventures of Superman seasons 1-4 (DVD)

And much less completely…

Dragnet various 1950s episodes (DVD)
Doctor Who various Hartnell & McCoy episodes (DVD)
Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans season 1 various episodes (DVD)

Quite a few films were viewed too, but perhaps most notably, the original James Bond films from Dr No through to Live and Let Die, on Blu-ray. Sadly, the great one, Sean Connery, passed away halfway through this… he had a good innings, but he’ll be missed (and had been missed from the screens since 2003).

More ramblings & viewing lists soon! (Maybe.)

2021

It’s been a while. After a flurry of activity on here back in August, following a blog reboot that I thought might spark my mind a bit, it kinda went dead. I’ve had that sort of on-off relationship with blogging for a long time, especially since social media started consuming everything like a hyperactive malignancy. The Internet—which IMO has always been a questionable means of communication—has really taken a dark turn in the last decade… whatever fun was once to be had (frankly, not a lot), it’s pretty much gone.

It remains a useful tool in some ways, but the more the Powers-That-Be try to push us into an all-digital existence, the less and less I want to depend on it. Simply put, it’s gotten to be too much. It has not made a healthy impression on people or society. Quite the opposite. The impact is disheartening.

And then, of course, there’s the endless, ubiquitous COVID filth. Whatever the nature of the sickness, it can’t be doubted by anyone who chooses to use their brain that it’s provided a number of people with a means to grab more power and influence. Individuals such as Bill Gates and Klaus Schwab—these are truly horrible people. I couldn’t possibly hold them in lower regard. So I haven’t been feeling good about any of this. Has anyone? Well, aside from the obvious. But I don’t want to talk about it very much. It gets politicised in ways that I find asinine and depressing. Believe me, I have no use whatsoever for mainstream political notions at this point. It’s laughable and meaningless.

I do wonder how history will record all of this—assuming history as we know it survives at all.

Still. I’ve done a spring-clean and a bit of a redesign. So maybe I’ll try to write on here a bit more again. I need to revamp the Portfolio content soon. It could be more effectively presented. Overall, I think the new look is more ‘modern’ (even if the concept growingly makes me shudder).

Question: should I make the ‘legacy’ blog content available again?! I do have about 20 years of on-off blog content now, but have kept much of it offline in recent years. I don’t know. There’s a lot of rubbish in there—but it’s also two decades of my life, for better or worse. I’m thinking it over.

See ya soon! Probably!

Comics: The Ring Of The Nibelung

Written by Roy Thomas. Drawn by Gil Kane (w/assist by Alfredo Alcala). Lettered by John Costanza. Coloured by Jim Woodring. Edited by Andrew Helfer. Published in 1989-90 by DC Comics.

Summary: A squarebound, four-issue mini-series adapting Der Ring des Nibelungen, Richard Wagner’s epic musical drama, aka the Ring Cycle, based on Norse Legend and the German epic poem Nibelungenlied.

Read more about Der Ring des Nibelungen on Wikipedia. (Saves me writing a synopsis!)

The Ring has also notably been adapted in comics form, at much greater length and more faithfully to the Wagner source, by P Craig Russell in 2000; and of course, there is the two-part 1924 silent movie by the great Fritz Lang, Die Nibelungen. The Thomas & Kane version is perhaps not so different from their work on various Conan projects—it has an old school adventure comics feel. If you like those books as much as I do, you won’t see that as a drawback.

The Ring Book 1
Epic Kane art from THE RING Book One.

One of the key visual differences from the older Thomas/Kane comics would be Jim Woodring’s painterly colours. Jim is, of course, a well-known underground cartoonist, but from the mid-to-late 1980s he also worked for the Ruby-Spears animation studio, at the same time as did Gil Kane. Woodring, I believe, did get to work on some of Kane’s conceptual drawings for R-S (as well as some of Jack Kirby’s), either as inker or colourist or both, and this connection was likely the reason he got this gig for DC Comics, which was his first mainstream comics credit.

(Side note: I used to own the original art for a conceptual drawing Kane did during his R-S period, which he’d inked himself and which was hand-coloured, possibly in marker. I emailed Jim to ask if the colouring was his; he promptly replied that it wasn’t. Maybe Kane did it himself. I digress.)

Jim’s colour work is pretty interesting here. It’s a little more “bright” than you’d expect from a DC book of the period—a deceptively simple yet artsy feel well-suited to fantasy, which Kane no doubt appreciated a great deal, being famously critical of mainstream conventions. Personally I think it makes Gil’s work look a little more cartoonish at times, but it does fit the subject well enough and gives it a more unique look.

The Ring Book 3
Gil Kane at his best from THE RING Book Three.

Gil’s work is, overall, superb, and the best visuals in this series are amongst his very best work, period. But it is a little inconsistent. To be fair, there are major mitigating factors. While working on this series, Gil got sick with lymphoma (which would plague him on-and-off for the rest of his days), which necessitated a bit of uncredited inking assistance from Alfredo Alcala (also a Conan stalwart, not to mention another Ruby-Spears alumnus) (I’m unsure if Alfredo inked any of Gil’s R-S work—though it’s very likely—but he did ink lots of Kirby’s stuff). It’s been said a number of times that Alcala only assisted on Book Four of this series, but IMO while I see little trace of his hand in Book Three, I’m sure he is nominally present in Book Two (see below). He does a reasonable job of suppressing the full extent of his own, florid style and emulating Gil’s trademark forthright inking, but it’s not a perfect match… better than I’d have expected, though.

The Ring Book 2
These panels, especially the third, show traces of Alfredo Alcala’s work, from THE RING Book Two.

I love the visuals in this series. It’s worth it for the drawings alone. Luckily, Thomas does a great job with the script, too—Roy’s real niche has always been fantasy more than superheroes, I think, even though he has done some excellent hero work (the Kree-Skrull War arc in Avengers may be his pinnacle)… his best work on Conan is unsurpassed in the comics adaptations. The Ring isn’t quite up to those peaks, but it’s very good.

Of interest to Thor fans, too, would be the Norse Mythology link. Wagner naturally used the Germanic variants, so one-eyed Wotan is of course one-eyed Odin, and Donner is not meat from a kebab but none other than Thor himself—brother of Wotan’s wife, not his son! The differences are curious and fascinating, but it’s easy to spot who the various folks are. (Similar fun can be had from reading of the Roman variants on Greek mythology.)

The Ring is a pretty typical fantasy adventure, really, but it does have adult themes which are not spared in this deluxe, mature readers format—Gil gets to draw naked breasts for the first time since his work on Blackmark in the early ’70s, and the ill-fated lovers depicted in book two (“The Valkyrie”)—Siegmund & Sieglinda—are long-lost twin siblings who don’t think twice about their union when they realise their true relation.

The Ring Book 4
Title page art from THE RING Book Four.

If you haven’t seen this series, it comes highly recommended! There was a TPB collection which is now OOP; buying the individual issues may be cheaper.

While I’m here: I’ve owned a number of Gil Kane originals over the years… currently, I own this (signed!) splash page layout for Savage Sword of Conan #8, which I think is pretty neat.

Savage Sword of Conan 8 pg1
Gil Kane original layout art for page 1 of “Corsairs Against Stygia”, SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #8, 1975.

Comics: Hulk #182

“Between Hammer and Anvil”

THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS!

Written by Len Wein. Pencilled & Inked by Herb Trimpe. Lettered by John Costanza. Coloured by Glynis Wein. Edited by Roy Thomas. Published in 1974 by Marvel Comics.

Summary: Stanley Kramer Meets John Steinbeck via the Outer Limits.

Let’s talk about one of my favourite comics. There are a few reasons why this is so: the Hulk was the first comics character I really bonded with, for one thing, and it was by accident. My nan used to buy me random comics when I was a little kid, and one of them was a Marvel UK Hulk book—which I doubt my mom would have ever bought me—and I instantly liked him. I already loved the original King Kong (1933), as well as all the Universal Monsters—I was definitely a Monster Kid. The Hulk was somewhere between Frankenstein’s Monster and Kong… today, I also see a lot of Lennie Small (Of Mice and Men) in him. And I do mean the 1970s Hulk—there are a number of spins on him, but the ’70s one is IMO the best.

Hulk #182
The cover to HULK #182, by Herb Trimpe, 1974.

Anyhow, early in my reading of these Hulk stories, a reprint of Hulk #182, “Between Hammer and Anvil”, popped up. The story directly followed the actually pretty terrific “Wendigo” tale that introduced none other than Wolverine in #180-181. But #182 is even better, I think. One reason is the artwork. The issues I’d seen to that point, though all pencilled by Herb Trimpe (who will forever by my Hulk artist), were mostly inked by Jack Abel. He was a very competent but terribly ‘clean’ (almost kind of uptight) inker, so although I loved that artwork, seeing Trimpe ink himself in this issue was something else.

Comparatively, it was so dark, rugged, interestingly textured and much, much more organic. Although Trimpe always carried a strong Jack Kirby influence, I also now realise the inking techniques he used during this period were strongly cued by the work of Jack Davis, of EC Comics and MAD Magazine fame. It’s a wonderful and unique look. Trimpe self-inked #182-186 before Joe Staton came on board for the last issues of his long run—#182 came out in 1974; Herb had been drawing the book for six years, and still had another year ahead of him. Staton, a decent artist in his own right, didn’t mesh all that well with Trimpe. It was neither one thing or the other, to my mind, though still easy on the eye.

In any case, I think the short self-inked Hulk run Herb did in 1974-75 is amongst his very best work. I love those issues, but #182 is forever the standout.

Let’s not forget the writing by Len Wein. Len, of course, co-created Swamp Thing at DC Comics with the legendary Bernie Wrightson, before moving to Marvel and writing Hulk for a couple of years. So he had good form with big green monsters. His writing is fine… he isn’t reinventing the wheel or making the earth shake. He’s making solid, readable stories that are accessible to all readers of all ages. (A craft largely forgotten in the current material being published.)

Hulk #182 owes a clear debt to Stanley’s Kramer’s 1958 classic movie The Defiant Ones (see my write-up here). Let’s not overstate it; Kramer’s movie is a brilliant, profound piece of work, and there’s no use in trying to compare this comic to it. But the theme of two escaped convicts, one black (Hammer), one white (Anvil, who happens to have a flat, anvil-shaped head!), fleeing through the swamps with a big chain binding them together, is an obvious homage.

However, the book has its own weird take on the idea. In a truly nutty bit of plotting, the two cons encounter an alien in the woods—and when Hammer fills the confused alien with lead, the alien thanks them for saving his life (lead has high nutirional value to this type of alien or somesuch nonsense)… and as a reward, instead of removing their chain, he turns it into a super-duper cosmic-powered chain that makes them invincible. Well, really powerful, anyhow. They can slice big-ass trees in two with it. Stuff like that. Hammer and Anvil forget that they’re still chained together in their power-craze, and head back to the prison for revenge!

Hulk 182b
Look! A cosmic-powered chain!

Yup, it’s pretty insane. But it works. It has no pretensions. It is what it is.

Hulk 182a
Hulk makes a new friend.

And there’s more to it than just that. The real heart of the story is Crackajack Jackson, the old guy Hulk stumbles upon deep in the woods. Jackson is playing the harmonica. When he notices the Hulk, about to depart, he calls out to him and offers him a plate of beans. Later on, he teaches Hulk how to write his own name on the ground using a twig. It’s simple but very charming. The misunderstood, rejected giant and the old man of colour who no doubt has experienced a lot of misunderstanding & rejection of his own… the Hulk has never been more Lennie Small-like than here, the story never more akin to a passage from the Steinbeck story.

Hulk 182c
Greenskin learns to write!

I’ve read quibbles about Jackson’s heavily-accented speech, but it seems actually kind of mean to criticise something like that, when the portrayal of Jackson is such a sweet, positive, life-affirming one. His clothes are a bit corny, but his accent is OK. In my opinion. Feel free to disagree.

Of course, it has to end in tragedy. Jackson is heading for the local prison to visit his estranged son, and the Hulk accompanies him; upon arriving, they discover Hammer & Anvil on a murderous rampage… and, of course, Hammer is Crackajack’s son. The latter reaches out to his son and accidentally touches the juiced-up chain, which instantly kills him.

Hulk 182d
This is a very angry Hulk.

A furious, grief-stricken Hulk tears into the two bad guys, and after an extended fight, rips the chain in two, causing them to collapse into madness. He then takes his friend’s body away, finds a suitable spot to bury him, and etches his name (with his bare fingers) into a makeshift tombstone.

Hulk 182e
A great, great ending.

The ending is just about perfect—he uses the new skill his friend taught him to create a lasting monument. I have to say, when I first saw this I was seven years old and it brought tears to my eyes. It was the first time a comic did that (and let’s be honest: it doesn’t happen often). Bear in mind, in the UK the story was split into two. So the first part shows Hulk making a new friend—then the following week, the friend abruptly dies. I thought Crackajack was just about the nicest old guy I’d ever seen, so feeling Hulk’s pain was easy.

I think that is the main reason why it remains one of my fave comics. It has heart & soul; the Hulk is a true protagonist and a real character in his own right—unlike the earlier years, in the ’60s, where he was changing continuously, and the later stuff, ditto, plus all the psycho-babble Peter David introduced, which I think pretty much demolished the character permanently… the ’70s had a lot of good times, and for me, this issue is amongst the peaks.

Sadly, the creative team for this book are longer with us. Len Wein died in September 2017, aged 69, after many years of poor health, only several months after his Swamp Thing collaborator Wrightson died. Herb Trimpe died in April 2015, aged 75, of a heart attack. He attended a comics event just before he passed; his death was very sudden.

Herb and I corresponded a little over the years (I wish it had been more), but we never actually met. My fave memory is a little over ten years ago, when I told him I wanted to commission him to draw me a picture of Orson Welles when I had some spare cash (I had commissioned Gene Colan to do one in 2006; Orson is one of my heroes, of course!).

Herb asked for my address and about ten days later, I received the below, gratis. What a lovely guy. Much missed.


Orson Welles by Herb Trimpe, 2010.

NOTE: Marvel released a “facsimile edition” of this book in 2020, solely due to it featuring Wolverine’s third (very brief) appearance on page 1. Still available cheaply at the time of writing and highly recommended.

Movies: The Defiant Ones (1958)

In Brief: this is the write-up of The Defiant Ones prepared for my in-progress book on Lon Chaney Jr, as mentioned here. Feedback is very welcome!

Defiant Ones Poster

Produced by Stanley Kramer for Lomitas Productions, Inc. Directed by Stanley Kramer. Screenplay by Nedrick Young & Harold Jacob Smith. Music score by Ernest Gold. Cinematography by Sam Leavitt. Edited by Frederic Knudtson. Distributed by United Artists.

Technical: 1.66:1, black and white, Westrex mono. Running time: 96 minutes. Production: late February to early April 1958. Premiere: September 24 1958 (NY).

With Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, Theodore Bikel, Charles McGraw, Lon Chaney, King Donovan and Claude Akins.

Two convicts—one white (Tony Curtis), one black (Sidney Poitier)—in a Southern chain gang are being transported in a van when the vehicle crashes. They escape, and what follows is a story of the tensions between the two, being forced to flee cross-country together―mostly through swamplands―until they find a way of breaking the four-foot chain that binds them.

Producer-director Stanley Kramer originally offered the role of “Joker” Jackson, the white male lead in The Defiant Ones, to Marlon Brando. He was busy elsewhere. Several others reportedly turned it down, including Robert Mitchum, who declined because he didn’t believe a white man and a black man would be chained together in the segregated South. (He claimed to have been in a Southern chain gang himself, in his youth.) Tony Curtis had recently appeared in Alexander Mackendrick’s brilliant film noir, The Sweet Smell of Success (1957), playing the amoral protagonist, Sidney Falco, quite beautifully—he was moving away from his ‘pretty boy’ image and was very keen to take on the role of Jackson. Kramer’s first choice for Noah Cullen, however, apparently always was Sidney Poitier, whose breakthrough role had been in MGM’s Blackboard Jungle (1955).

The story for The Defiant Ones, credited on screen to Nathan E Douglas and Harold Jacob Smith, caused a stir not only for its emotive themes, but also when it was revealed that Douglas was a pseudonym for writer Nedrick Young, who had been blacklisted in 1953 for taking the Fifth during HUAC proceedings. A much-needed, speedy change in Academy Awards policy allowed Young to receive an Oscar nomination for the screenplay, and in fact The Defiant Ones did take the Best Original Screenplay award at the April 6 1959 ceremony… but Kramer continued for some time to take flak for his supposedly un-American decision to use blacklisted talent. He used Young again for another contentious movie, Inherit the Wind (1960)—and yet more noise ensued.

“Joker” Jackson, which Curtis performs with a slightly wobbly but mostly plausible Southern accent, is not so much an unrelenting racist as a product, or victim, of his background & culture. To a slightly lesser degree, the same is true of Poitier as Cullen. Jackson does call Cullen the N word in the opening scene, but the picture deliberately avoids presenting a—so to speak—black & white portrait. Their flight from the law is one of enforced mutual dependence, from which grows a bond of trust and, by the final reel, genuine affection.

It’s inspiring and beautifully played in every moment―and many decades later, while it has unavoidably dated in certain respects, it still has something to say that isn’t at all hindered by clumsy political lecturing or cultural bias.

The supporting cast provides particularly fine backup on all counts. Theodore Bikel, heading the search for the escaped cons, pitches his portrayal of a sympathetic lawman very nicely. Everyone in the film performs to a high standard.

Amidst this, Lon appears about halfway through, as the two men stumble upon a small settlement and the prospect of food. The cons get caught entering the village in the dead of night, and after a struggle & chase find themselves in front of a lynch mob eager to see them swinging. Lon, as Big Sam, intercedes for them, persuades the crowd to let the law handle it, and gets to slug a gung-ho Claude Akins to reinforce his point. Lon plays his scenes perfectly, his grizzled appearance capturing a long life of experience and wisdom needed to make his character breathe―really breathe, without any kind of gimmicks or scenery-chewing.

The coda of Lon’s brief but pivotal role comes when he enters the shack where they’re imprisoned, awaiting the law, and lets them go. It’s here we discover that Sam himself is a former convict and chain gang member―but he releases them without mawkish sentiment or fanfare, simply whispering, as they disappear into the distance: “Run, chickens, run!”
The revelation is almost superfluous―it adds a personal dimension to the stance Big Sam takes, but the powerful impression Chaney had already made easily stands without it.

As brief as the role is, Chaney has never been better. The degree of control, assurance, and—dare we say it?—naturalness is a revelation, and in many ways is a tragic indication of what is lost to history and opportunity (and, we must allow, a battle with alcohol). There’s an entirely different career suggested, as a powerful presence in fully ‘serious’ and ‘modern’ films, holding his own with the very best, which was destined never to happen.

The Defiant Ones received nine Oscar nominations (the most a single film got that year), including Nedrick Young’s win for best screenplay. Two of them were in Best Actor category for both Curtis and Poitier, the latter being—astonishingly and very sadly—the first black male nomination in any category. Neither actor won, but a second award, for Best Cinematography, did go to Sam Leavitt.

Lon, unsurprisingly, was not amongst the nominees for Best Supporting Actor―but Theodore Bikel was. Elsewhere, it won a number of other awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (drama), and over in the UK a BAFTA for Poitier (Best Foreign Actor).

Chaney must have been delighted to be involved in another film of this quality. Sadly, it was a major high-point in what was otherwise a slow, inexorable decline. It was the third and final time Kramer hired him; as much as people wonder why Kramer made use of him (the answer, of course, being: “he thought he was good”), the bigger question might be why he never used him again―especially as Lon’s work in The Defiant Ones is amongst his very best. Sadly, it may partly be due to a growing industry awareness that his drinking was becoming ever-more problematic.

PRESS ROOM

Harrison’s Reports, August 9 1958

It is not a pleasant picture, for the action is grim and frequently violent, but it has been superbly directed and acted, and, without preachment, offers an eloquent message on tolerance and the brotherhood of man.

Bosley Crowther; New York Times, September 25 1958

A remarkably apt and dramatic visualization of a social idea―the idea of men of different races brought together to face misfortune in a bond of brotherhood―is achieved by producer Stanley Kramer in his new film…

Between the two principal performers there isn’t much room for a choice. Mr Poitier stands out as the Negro convict and Mr Curtis is surprisingly good…

Lon Chaney gives a strong performance as an upright and fearless man who firmly deflates a lynch mob.