Intl. Notebook Feb 2 2016
BOATING WITH BENITO
Mussolini’s watergoing love nest pops up in criminal proceeding.


You’ve won a colonial war of choice by shattering a non-violent Ethiopia as world powers such as Britain and France stood by and watched. You’ve rammed through privatizations, laws favoring the wealthy, and made unions virtually illegal. And you’ve got an ultra-nationalist, militarized police force to help you crush social unrest. What does a satisfied dictator do to unwind? Clearly, he takes his yacht out for a spin on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Italian strongman Benito Mussolini used that yacht—the Fiamma Nera or “Black Fire”—for aquatic romps with his hot mistress Clara Petacci, but scuttled the boat in 1943 after Italy’s World War II fortunes turned for the worse. The boat was raised and had several owners over the decades, but is in the news today because it was part of 28 million worth of assets seized from alleged organized crime figure Salvatore Squillante. 

Squillante was thought to be just another high flying one-percenter until his dealings with a Rome-based mafia network run by neo-fascists emerged as part of a legal investigation. He already had been convicted of filing a fraudulent bankruptcy in 1993, and the new information suggests he may be tied to systematic corruption in Rome involving politicians and businessmen who teamed with mobsters to scrape profits off the top of public contracts. Squillante is also connected via property dealings to convicted murderer Salvatore Buzzi, who as part of the aforementioned investigation was caught on tape telling criminal associates that schemes taking advantage of desperate Middle Eastern and African migrants were more profitable than the drug trade. The implications of that statement are truly frightening considering the drug trade is so profitable that some of the biggest banks in the world are connected to it.
 
But as interesting as Squillante and Buzzi are (who, by the way, have a long way to go before they hold a candle to slippery Silvio Berlusconi, whose antics we detailed here, here, and here), it’s the bit about Mussolini’s love boat that’s most fascinating. We suspect it was totemic for its various owners, who all certainly knew Il Duce was a sex maniac who trysted with hundreds or thousands of women—at sea and land—during his time in power. Fiamma Nera is destined to increase even more in value now that people outside Italy are aware of its existence. Will we be subjected to the spectacle of some hedge fund manager buying it for a fortune? Some software princeling or fat oligarch? After all, it's been bought numerous times before. But by virtue of its seizure it's now owned by the state for perhaps the first time, which means there's an alternativeto selling it—make it a floating monument dedicated to the crimes and hubris of Il Duce and the evil of fascism. Or destroy the thing completely and eternally.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 31 2016
SNUFF'S ENUFF
1960 thriller combined voyeurism, repression, child abuse, and sexual crime long before the public was ready.


Hollywood lore is sprinkled with tales of maligned cinematic masterpieces. British director Michael Powell’s 1960 voyeuristic thriller Peeping Tom is one of them—a film so savagely reviewed that it irreparably damaged what had been an acclaimed directorial career. While Powell should not have suffered so brutal a fate, his film’s rebranding as a work of incandescent genius is also not fully deserved. In the end Peeping Tom is a perfectly decent piece of filmmaking, amazingly forward-looking but also flawed. It deals with a man-child obsessed with filming women at the moment the fear of death appears in their eyes, and our villain does this of course by murdering them, and he manages to kill, film, and keep his subjects in frame at all times by using a spear-like contraption attached to his camera tripod. As you can probably guess, his carefully balanced existence is upset by the arrival of a prospective love interest, and we know from the moment she appears that she’ll be in front of his lens at some point.
 
In the U.S., Peeping Tom came after Alfred Hitchcock’s similar Psycho, but it Britain it arrived first. Censorship was slipping in British cinema, but to get a sense of how prudish authorities still were, consider the fact that Hitchcock’s movie caused controversy not only for its shower murderand for showing Janet Leigh in her bra and in bed with a man, but for being the first film to show a flushing toilet—an affront to bluenoses though the contents were merely a torn up note. Peeping Tom pushed the envelope farther and did it first, showing the killer Mark Lewis preying on sex workers and nude models, showing nudie reel star Pamela Green sprawled topless on a bed just before her murder, and drawing out the killings to agonizing length as Lewis coaxes the perfect expression of terror from his victims. Powell develops his killer to the extent that the audience must understand him as a human, and uses point-of-view to make the character’s films-within-the-film the equivalent of snuff movies.
 
The list of technical achievements goes on—Powell deftly manages to make Peeping Tom brutal without spilling a drop of blood, and his visual approach is engrossing. So why isn’t the movie a 10? Well, there are a few glaring script incongruities, some of the acting is below professional level, the killer seems careless for someone that has been at it for a while, and the idea of so obviously disturbed a man—stuttering, mumbling, visibly shying from any form of human contact—being able to attract even awoman as kind and credulous as Anna Massey just doesn’t ring true. There are men who are projects, and there are men who are lost causes—are we right, girls? That’s what the Pulp Intl. girlfriends say anyway. But Peeping Tom is a film every cinephile should see. The moral objections of contemporary critics seem quaint now—many hated being forced to experience the murders from the killer’s perspective, but the viewer’s loss of choice echoes the killer’s helplessness to control himself, and that may very well be Powell’s best trick.

The Noir City Film Festival ends tonight with a pairing of Peeping Tom with the Michelangelo Antonioni classic Blow-Up, which means here at Pulp Intl. we’ll close the book on the fest and move back into the more diverse subject matter that usually makes up our website. We wanted to use Noir City as an excuse to delve into the film noir catalog and we managed to watch sixteen of the twenty-five films on the schedule—some for the second or third time—and write about twelve of them. This all made for a quite enjoyable week, with much wine drunk and popcorn noshed (we have a Whirley popcorn maker we had sent over from the States that does a bang-up job), but it was also a bit of work. At this point we doubt we’ll go through all the considerable effort of screening next year’s Noir City slate, but you never know. Next January is a long, long way off—or at least, it should seem that way if you’re living life the way you should. We shall see. 

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Femmes Fatales Jan 31 2016
HAND OF GODDARD
Canary with a .38.

Above, American actress Paulette Goddard in a publicity shot made for the 1939 film The Cat and the Canary

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Vintage Pulp Jan 30 2016
MAKING A MURDERER
Nice guys finish last—until they're pushed too far.


The 1945 film noir Scarlet Street is one of the bleaker offerings from a generally bleak genre. Edward G. Robinson plays an aspiring painter in a loveless marriage whose need makes him a perfect mark for a pair of hustlers, played by Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, who shake him down for money, a free apartment, and even his recognition as an artist. The main treat here is seeing tough guy Robinson play a mild-mannered everyman, the sort of terminal pushover he also portrayed to great effect in the noir The Woman in the Window. The thing is, some people can only take so much abuse.

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Hollywoodland | Musiquarium Jan 30 2016
AQUA VELVET
Always wash delicates gently or by hand.


Think accidental upskirts are a modern day phenomenon? Seemingly not, as Vikki Dougan shows by getting a little too frisky in a mid-1950s promo shoot, leading her to accidentally reveal just a bit more than she intended. Or we assume so. Considering the shoot showcased both her rear and breasts (below), maybe the trifecta was intentional. She was the queen of wardrobe publicity stunts, after all, and proof that skin always generates ink. Her antics even inspired a song from cheeseball rockers the Limeliters. It went a little somethin’ like this:

Vikki turn your back on me

Come on darlin' just for me
'Cause there is something so appealin'
that your eyes are not revealin'!
 
Oh, Miss Dougan, you're for me!
Other girls who approach me,
Are beautiful, gorgeous and gay!
But you're so gosh darn more inviting
Going the other way!
 
Vikki baby, you move me,
Without you I'm bereft!
I'm hypnotized by those crazy eyes,
And that callipygian cleft!
 
Vikki baby you rock me,
In those far-out clothes!
But don't it get chilly flyin' home at night
When that cold cold tail-wind blows?

You can hear the tune at this link, and if you don’t want to deal with the comedic preamble the actual music starts at 2:37.



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Vintage Pulp Jan 29 2016
MAN ON THE EDGE
The Big Knife could be sharper but its lessons about Hollywood ruthlessness resonate.


Above you see a poster for the 1955 drama The Big Knife, which, along with The Bad and the Beautiful, plays on tonight’s dark-side-of-Hollywood double bill at the Noir City Film Festival. Based on Clifford Odets’ play of the same name, The Big Knife tells the story of a star actor who wants to expand artistically, but is being tormented by his studio boss to ink a new deal locking him into more of the unfulfilling schlock that put him on the map. The studio has leverage because it helped the actor—played by Jack Palance—hide his role in causing a fatal car accident years ago. The studio boss—Rod Stieger, shamelessly hamming up the place (see photo below)—will stop at nothing, including blackmail, to get the contract signed. The stage-based origins of The Big Knife are clear, as the action rarely leaves one room and the dialogue is at times florid, but the question of whether Palance has the constitution to stand up to Stieger’s abuse offers some tension, and Ida Lupino as Palance’s wife helps elevate the exercise. Above average, we’d call this one, but we think festivalgoers will like The Bad and the Beautiful a lot better.


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Vintage Pulp Jan 29 2016
ARMED CONFLICT
What to do. Yes, she’s a circus freak whose arms come directly out of her ribcage, but it’s not as if I’m perfect.


Steve Harragan isn’t only the author of Side-Show Girl—he’s its main character. Harragan, aka Bart Carson, aka William Maconachie wrote eleven thrillers starring himself in two years, including Cuban Heel. Side-Show Girl is set at Coney Island and gives Harragan a murder to solve that pits him against deadly lions, a murderous strongman, the hall of mirrors, the dangerously high rollercoaster, etc. It was the first of the Harragan series, coming in 1952. 

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Femmes Fatales Jan 29 2016
STRAIGHT SHOOTER
Nothing to fear but Greer herself.


This awesome promo photo comes from Jacques Tourneur’s iconic 1947 film noir Out of the Past, in which Jane Greer plays Kathie Moffat, one of history’s greatest femmes fatales. Here she watches Robert Mitchum and Steve Brodie in a fistfight, planning all along to decide the situation with a bullet.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 28 2016
ALL OF MIMI
Ekberg as a stripper is a dream come true but she brings a nightmare with her.


Based on a 1949 novel of the same name by Frederic Brown, Screaming Mimi stars Anita Ekberg as a traumatized burlesque dancer who can’t shake the memory of being attacked by a knife-wielding maniac. She’s committed to a mental institution, where her psychiatrist promptly falls in love with her and helps her escape and create a new identity. Now dancing at a club in Laguna Beach, California, she’s the hottest draw in the area and her former doctor is her lover and protector, but also smothers and dominates her. Can the anonymity last? Of course not.

Enter stage right an entitled horndog who won’t take no for an answer. After Ekberg survives another knife attack the horndog—who’s also a reporter—has all the justification he needs to dog Ekberg’s every step, and the doctor tries to protect her fake identity and keep her and the reporter from falling into bed together. Chances of success? Zero. Screaming Mimi is an interesting noir—it was fertile enough to serve as inspiration for Dario Argento’s L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo, aka The Bird with the Crystal Plumage—but its b-movie budget really shows and we think Philip Carey is miscast as the reporter/hero. Carey has no charm at all in this, which renders Ekberg’s interest in him unbelievable. But his performance will be a treat for patrons of the Noir City fest—most will probably remember him from his twenty-four-year stint as the repulsive Asa Buchanan on the soap opera One Life To Live.


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Vintage Pulp Jan 28 2016
ATOMIC BLONDE
Nuclear intrigue in North Africa.


Above, top notch cover art by Jacques Thibésart, aka Nik, for Jo Claver’s Bombe atomique à Port-Lyautey, which was published by Éditions Le Globe and Éditions Le Trotteur in 1956. Claver was aka Georges Claver-Peyre, and this particular book is Cold War intrigue and romance set in Morocco. See more fine Thibésart here and here.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
February 13
1935—Jury Finds Hauptmann Guilty
A jury in Flemington, New Jersey finds Bruno Hauptmann guilty of the 1932 kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby, the son of Charles Lindbergh. Hauptmann is sentenced to death and executed in 1936. For decades, his widow Anna, fights to have his named cleared, claiming that Hauptmann did not commit the crime, and was instead a victim of prosecutorial misconduct, but her claims are ultimately dismissed in 1984 after the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to address the case.
February 12
1961—Soviets Launch Venus Probe
The U.S.S.R. launches the spacecraft Venera 1, equipped with scientific instruments to measure solar wind, micrometeorites, and cosmic radiation, towards planet Venus. The craft is the first modern planetary probe. Among its many achievements, it confirms the presence of solar wind in deep space, but overheats due to the failure of a sensor before its Venus mission is completed.
1994—Thieves Steal Munch Masterpiece
In Oslo, Norway, a pair of art thieves steal one of the world's best-known paintings, Edvard Munch's "The Scream," from a gallery in the Norwegian capital. The two men take less than a minute to climb a ladder, smash through a window of the National Art Museum, and remove the painting from the wall with wire cutters. After a ransom demand the museum refuses to pay, police manage to locate the panting in May, and the two thieves, as well as two accomplices, are arrested.
February 11
1938—BBC Airs First Sci-Fi Program
BBC Television produces the first ever science fiction television program, an adaptation of a section of Czech writer Karel Capek's dark play R.U.R., aka, Rossum's Universal Robots. The robots in the play are not robots in the modern sense of machines, but rather are biological entities that can be mistaken for humans. Nevertheless, R.U.R. featured the first known usage of the term "robot".

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