Tuesday, January 8, 2019

'Wipe your chest, renegade!'

H. Bedford-Jones was fond of framing devices, at least when writing short stories. Sometimes they helped maintain the gimmick for a series of thematically related stories, and sometimes, probably, they simply padded out a story to make it more lucrative for the prolific author. They tend to keep us at a distance from the main story, since you have to get the story of someone telling the story first. It's unusual for the framing device to warn us away from the story, but that's the impression given -- perhaps unintentionally -- by the framing device for "J. Smith, His Mark" (Adventure, June 1940). In the framing device, our present-day narrator is shown some curios by a Hollywood friend, and then is treated to a private screening of a film alleged to be unreleasably bad. The story of that apparent stinker is our main story, an adventure of Captain John Smith when he was a mercenary in Morocco, years before his legendary exploits in Virginia. The story itself is not bad, if not much of a story. Smith makes a friend who shows him the ropes, an English renegade kills the friend, and Smith gets a measure of revenge in a duel that ends with him carving his initials, Zorro-style, in his enemy's chest. This trifle has a morbid coda as our narrator's friend calls his attention back to an exotic drum he'd admired earlier. The skin of the drum is the skin of Smith's enemy, the initials still showing. The narrator has nothing to say about the cinematic quality of the film he's watched, but we might observe that if anything made the project unreleasable, it was the presumably explicit footage of Smith slicing both of his enemy's ears off before signing his work. The Production Code didn't allow for such things -- but pulp did.

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