ALthough it’s not part of the official canon, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) isn’t any more discontinuous with the earlier films than House of Dracula as Dracula (Bela Lugosi), the Creature (Glenn Strange), werewolf Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) show up in Florida (despite Talbot and Dracula being destroyed or cured in both House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein)) where mad doctor Lenore Aubert plots to transplant Lou Costello’s brain into the Creature’s body. A classic hybrid of horror and comedy where the horror stars play it straight, so it’s as if Bud and Lou just wandered onto the wrong set (the Wolfman come off worst, much clumsier than in the original films); this also gives the Creature more screen time than either “House of” movie. “Instead of being short and fat, you will become tall and strong as an ox.”
HENRY V (1944) was Laurence Olivier’s WW II morale booster in which Henry (Olivier) leads low-comic English troops to crush their more numerous but effete European enemies, while omitting scenes from the play where Henry hangs looters and the ending that reminds us Henvy VI lost everything V won at Agincourt. This lacks the complexity of Macbeth or Henry IV, but it is great-looking (the show starts as a stage play at a Globe, then slowly moves into the wider world, though the sets remain stagey) and Olivier certainly delivers on the big speeches. “And gentlemen in England now abed shall hold themselves accursed they were not here.”
ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT by Sarah A. Hoyt is a flat Shakespearian fantasy in which scheming at the court of Faerie drags both Will and his wife Anne into their intrigues, with one conniving fae functioning as the Dark Lady of the sonnet. I found this one rather bland.
THE UNCERTAIN PLACES by Lisa Goldstein is an excellent faerie fantasy in which Berkley student in the 1960s discovers the woman he’s in love with belongs to a family that receives blessings of luck in return for letting the Fae put one girl in every generation to sleep for seven years (three guesses who it is in this generation). The fae come across in a lot of modern fairy tales as if they were just a super-powered race (Homo superior with magic) but Goldstein’s fairies are genuinely weird and creepy (like the origin of brownies) and she balances the mundane and magical details of her world very well.
RACE AND REUNION: The Civil War in American Memory by David W. Blight looks at how America spent the half-century after the Civil War debating whether the war’s meaning could be found in liberating the slaves, defeating secession or in seeing all the soldiers on both sides as noble champions (along with debating whether Reconstruction was just or oppressive). Needless to say, the desire to salve the nation’s wounds (not to mention Southern promotion of the “Lost Cause”) made it easier to decide that both sides were valiant and heroic and turn a blind eye to the issue of slavery, which also required ignoring lynching and Jim Crow. The fact critics of the Gilded Age of the 1890s held up the war as a Golden Age of heroism and sacrifice didn’t help. Depressing, but well done.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CLOCKWORK MAN by Mark Hodder is an excellent steampunk fantasy in which a time traveler’s interference in history (detailed in the previous volume of the series) results in a Victorian age where technology includes computers, automatons, flying machines, psi-powers and vehicles formed from genetically engineered giant insects. The series focuses on Richard Burton and Algernon Swinburne, government agents who in this volume discover Charles Babbage’s attempt to attain computerized immortality has exposed a subversive conspiracy to rouse the workers to revolt under the leadership of Helena Blavatsky and the once-notorious Tichbourne Claimant. The dialog gets too expository in spots, but the flamboyance of Hodder’s world more than makes up for that.