Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Jack London Thrillers and Dark Comic Intrigue in the Russian Court

July 28th, 2020 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.


The Assassination Bureau, Ltd. (Fiction, Jack London and Robert L. Fish, 1910 and 1963) Ivan Dragomiloff, founder of the titular Bureau, accepts a termination order against himself from his daughter’s lover. Less a pulse-pounding action thriller than a heightened philosophical melodrama, it reads like a Jack London riff on Chesterton’s Pinnacle metaphysical spy dialectic The Man Who Was Thursday. Fish completed the book from London’s outline, but tightens it somewhat in the thriller direction. –KH

Blondie of the Follies (Film, US, Edmund Goulding, 1932) Good-hearted tenement gal (Marion Davies) follows a fiery neighbor (Billie Dove) into burlesque stardom, but the wavering affections of a suave financier (Robert Montgomery) come between them. Anita Loos’ dialogue lends empathetic nuance to the standard patterns of early 30s escapist melodrama.—RDL

The Great Season 1 (Television, US/UK, Hulu, Tony McNamara, 2020) Upon arrival at the Russian court as bride of a less-than-great Emperor Peter (Nicholas Hoult), young Catherine of Anhalt (Elle Fanning) fixes on the power she’ll need to reform her adopted nation. Profane, gleefully grim historical travesty might be described as “The Thick of It” meets “The Borgias,” but with an emotional and moral center. Fanning conquers both the comedy and feeling of her role, while Hoult brilliantly leaps between upper class twit and dangerous psychopath. Ideal fodder for a Skulduggery game.—RDL

Revolver (Film, Italy, Sergio Sollima, 1973) Grim-faced cop turned prison official (Oliver Reed) busts out an imprisoned robber (Fabio Testi) in hopes of freeing his kidnapped wife. Though very much a 70s poliziotteschi, its extreme compositions, antagonistic bond between male leads, and Ennio Morricone score display an unmistakable kinship to the spaghetti western. The only gun seen prominently here is a luger, so the titular revolver must be capitalism.—RDL


The Iron Heel (Fiction, Jack London, 1908) Memoir of Avis Everhard, wife of the great American socialist revolutionary Ernest Everhard during the rise of the oligarchic Iron Heel in the U.S. (1912-1917), annotated by a historian from the communist utopia of the 27th century. Social-sf urtext shares that subgenre’s fondness for political diatribe, leavened with red-blooded London action scenes. In a decision that seems even less realistic than the rest of the tale, London near-completely erases nonwhites from the text and politics. –KH

The Violent Men (Film, US, Rudolph Maté, 1955) Ex-cavalry officer (Glenn Ford) plans to sell his ranch to local cattle magnates (Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck)—until they make the mistake of messing with him. High 50s melodrama between the antagonists differentiates what would otherwise be a standard narrative of the stalwart man once more forced to pick up the gun.—RDL


Shanghai Fortress (Film, China, Huatao Teng, 2019) Young hotshot pilot in training (Han Lu) longs for his dedicated superior officer (Shu Qi) as they prepare for a last stand against power-suited aliens. Workmanlike CGI blockbuster provides another example of the Chinese film industry looking at 80s/90s Hollywood for tropes and gestures to reconfigure into CCP propagantainment.—RDL

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