The pieces of treasure are worth a fortune. The nuggets of wisdom—not so much.
Barbara Walton art graces the dust sleeve of John D. MacDonald's A Deadly Shade of Gold. It was published in 1967 by Robert Hale, Ltd. two years after the book's U.S. debut. MacDonald's franchise character Travis McGee kicks ass and dispenses unsolicited wisdom, and while the action is fun, the philosophizing is less so. The latter is sometimes insightful when directed at civilization, but is often sweeping and incorrect when directed at civilians. Vacationers are this way. College boys are that way. Lesbians are this way. We've had plenty of experiences with all the categories of humans McGee thinks of as tedious and banal, and we found them to be as varied and interesting as any other group.
The book, though, is engrossing, built around our favorite film noir and crime fiction device—a trip to Mexico, with the action set in the fictional coastal town of Puerto Altamura. There McGee seeks to uncover the killers of a close friend and determine the whereabouts of a set of golden pre-Colombian statuettes. Five entries into the series and MacDonald seems to have hit his stride. McGee is going to keep making dubious pronouncements (we sent a passage about “negroes” from the seventh entry Darker than Amber to a black friend, who said: “What idiot wrote that?”), but we liked this caper. If you're curious about the character or author you can learn more at thetrapofsolidgold.blogspot.com, pretty much the last word on all things Travis McGee and John D.
A Gallur gallery of viciousness and vice.
A while back we began sharing pieces of 1980s comic art from Mexico and intended to make it a regular feature. In our heads we're still featuring Mexican art regularly, but today we realized we haven't posted a piece in two years. Which goes to show you how things work around here. So we're back to Mexican ’80s comic art today, with all its crazy violence and wild stylings.
Above you see a painting entitled Enlatadas, which in Spanish means “canned.” We're guessing that's Mexican slang for getting your ass handed to you in the most brutal possible way. Below you see three more pieces. The first is for a comic series called Frank Kevin, and is the cover art used for #366 in the series. Second you see a piece for the series Sensacionál de Maestros, or “teacher's sensation.” In this case, thief seems to be the answer. And third you see cover art for something called Posesión Demoníaca, no translation needed.
The artists on Mexican comic illustrations are often forgotten, except for a select few. All today's pieces are by the same person—Rafael Gallur—who has had a long and prolific career in newspapers and comics. You can see more from him here. We'll try to pump new life into our Mexican art series going forward, which means you should see the next post in about a year. Just kidding. We'll do better. In the meantime check out others in the category here, here, here, and here.
Tallman takes readers on a wild trip to Mexico.
Colorado born writer Robert Tallman achieved his first true recognition from 1947 to 1949 writing the weekly radio program The Adventures of Sam Spade. He went to Acapulco on vacation, ended up staying a year, and that idyll inspired his first novel, 1950's Adios O'Shaughnessy, about a collection of bizarre characters who've fetched up in a fictional Mexican town called Pollo Sabroso. Besides the title character, there's the raven haired beauty Gloria Blackman (described as a blonde in the rear cover blurb either by mistake or for marketing purposes), the young Mexican hunk Manuel Mendoza, and a black child named Miguelito who wanders the town—for reasons we can't discern—naked. It's the precocious Miguelito who provides the title of the book when he notices O'Shaughnessy looks like Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
The plot of the book is barely discernible, but partly involves a fishing boat and the various characters who covet it. Some want to fish in it, while others have more political aims that ultimately lead to deadly violence. The book worked for us not because of its plot, but because of its depiction of gringos cast adrift in Latin America. Despite the serious subject matter, Tallman's writing is ornate and often lighthearted. For example: “Ramirez, acquainted with the eellike elusiveness of this class of quarry, grabbed him by the most convenient handle, the baggy seat of his pants. There was an ominous sound of ripping fabric, and the disaster resulting was such that the poor witness, in all modesty, could not now walk upon the streets.”
Here's another nifty passage that gives an even better sense of Tallman's style: “Had a goddess leaped forth from the limpid, luminous swells, he would not have been altogether astonished. What did leap forth was much more unlikely. A slim, small-breasted woman with a face like an ecstatic mask, legs as long as a fashion drawing, and with the graceful bather's especial gift of emerging from the water without seeming
wet: this is what he saw before he realized it was Ella Praline, stark naked, running up the beach pursued by a naked boy who resembled a faun in more ways than one
.” Pretty cool, that whole sequence, though it ends rather weirdly for poor Ella.
In fact the whole novel is weird, and while it takes its time coming together, it eventually reveals itself to be good entertainment for those who don't mind fiction that's more influenced by Graham Greene than by Dashiell Hammett. Also, it spoke to us on a personal level because, like Tallman, we threw caution to the wind and moved abroad—to Guatemala not Mexico. Tallman
captures the drinking, the fighting, the skinny dipping, the random stupidity, the constant undercurrent of danger, the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the beautiful women who pass through for days or weeks to turn the town upside down, and, most of all, the odd personalities who think all of this is the best possible way to live. We count ourselves among them. Whatever else one thinks of Adios O'Shaughnessy
it has the feel of the real thing.
The mafia are no match for Jim Brown.
In the blaxploitation flick Slaughter Jim Brown plays Slaughter—no first name—a former Green Beret captain whose underworld connected father is killed by a car bomb. He vows revenge and guns down some of the responsible parties at an airport. That's when the government steps in and turns Slaughter into an operative in exchange for dropping murder charges. All he has to do is head to Mexico and capture the top mobster. South of the border he goes, where shootings, chases, and general mayhem follow as he pretty much turns the country upside down. There are occasional interesting visual flourishes during the violence, including hallucinatory ultra wide angle shots. Maybe director Jack Starrett heaped on the style a bit heavily, but it does set Slaughter apart, and in the end doesn't really harm the final product. Another thing heaped on is the racial insults, even more than in most blaxploitation, and if there's a lesson being imparted it's that eventually n-bombs go off in your face.
Blaxploitation is nothing without its femme fatales, and in those roles Slaughter casts Marlene Clark and Stella Stevens. Clark, though talented, is mere window dressing here; Stevens gets a substantial temptress role, and she's perfectly suited for it, a dozen years after her Playboy centerfold appearance at age twenty-two, and about twice as beautiful in her mid-thirties. According to Brown, Slaughter is one of the three favorite films he starred in. Maybe Stella had something to do with that. In an interview some years back she was asked about the love scenes and said, “I was told that in the movie he did with Raquel Welch, he had a towel put between them, because he didn’t want to touch her flesh in the love scene with her.* I can tell you, we didn’t have anything between us except good feelings and fun.” Well, it looks to us like they had a good time too, and why not? Stevens is hot as hell and Brown is unadulterated manhood on a level few males can hope to reach. We think this one is well worth a watch for fans of the genre. Slaughter premiered in the U.S. today in 1972.*Jim Brown is no fool, and we doubt he ever made such a request. Welch wore undergarments, which was probably always the plan, considering she has done no nude scenes during her career.
I think we should consider a separation. And I have just the body part in mind.
A gringo detective with an agency in Mexico City is hired to locate his crooked ex-partner, who has bailed with the agency's money, and now is causing trouble for the client. The PI takes the job, glad to be paid to track down his betrayer, and starts in the Mexican town of Rio Bravo where the partner immediately turns up dead. From there the hero delves into local corruption, crosses the border to Texas, uncovers a human trafficking ring, meets a cantina dancer named Arden Kennett, deals with a dangerous wife, watches murders pile up and the police begin to suspect him, and learns that knives can be thrown just as effectively as they can be brandished.
The book was published in the U.S. as an Ace Double in 1959 with Paul Rader art and bound with Charles Fritch's Negative of a Nude, but the rare edition above is from Aussie imprint Phantom Books and appeared in 1960. We can't identify the artist, which is an affliction we've been dealing with quite a bit of late. But don't blame us—as we've mentioned once or twice before, including just a few days ago, Phantom didn't credit art, possibly because much of it was copied from U.S. editions. Many of the covers do, however, look like the same hand, so hopefully someone will be able to ID the owner of that hand at some point in the future.
This is our most desperate hour. Help us Santo—you're our only hope.
We were dubious toward Santo when we learned of his movies, but after screening three features the guy has really grown on us. So last night we watched Santo contra los asesinos de otros mundos, which was known in English as Santo vs. The Killers from Other Worlds. You know the basics—Santo is a Mexican luchador who is also an ace international crimefighter. Which is convenient, because an evil mastermind named Malkosh is demanding a fortune in gold bars from the Mexican government or he'll unleash a monster on the populace. This terrifying blob, which in the script has been somehow derived from moon rocks, in reality is three guys huddled under a giant shammy. Doubtless bumping heads and asses while crabwalking under this thing, the poor guys move at about the same speed as traffic in central Mexico City. But no matter—the blob is a whiz at triangulation, and its victims are agility challenged. Whoever it chases inevitably finds himself or herself trapped and, after futilely heaving staplers and coffee cups, consumed down to a skeletal state.
Santo's crimefighting technique is often to be captured. It's never intentional—it just works out that way. And just as form dictates, Malkosh snares Santo, but rather than kill him outright forces him to fight Spartacus style against ever more deadly opponents, an entertainment that of course backfires when the third gladiator accidentally flamethrowers a guard, allowing Santo to grab a machine gun and get the drop on everyone. You have to wonder why these villains toy with him so. The man is well-known as the most lethal crimefighter in Mexico, if not all of the Americas, yet the crooks insist upon underestimating him. Maybe it's just hard to be awed by a guy in a gimp mask who's wearing the drapes from a Guadalajara whorehouse as a cape. Even so, Santo's record speaks for itself, which means you ignore the brief at your peril. Malkosh, foolish lad, dies ignominiously, screaming even, but not before Santo learns from him that the moon blob grows like federal overreach. And indeed, soon there are four guys knocking body parts under the shammy, then five, looks like.
The rest of the film tracks Santo's efforts to find Malkosh's partner Licur, who has imprisoned a Professor Bernstein, the only person on Earth who knows how to corral the lunar abomination busily scuttling across the landscape. Locating Licur involves a bit of Holmesian deduction, at which point Santo gains access to the top secret high security lair by scaling a low wall. In the subsequent fistfights, he's ferociously pounded about his face and semi-soft body, yet his gimp mask never slips and his whorehouse drapes never rip. Finally he squares off against Licur himself, who proves to be no match, and at that point all that's left is to defeat the beast, now about the size of a Winnebago. We'll leave the last bit as a surprise, but suffice to say Santo is always one step ahead. In the end, the film was another satisfying outing, with all the hallmarks of the series—terrible dialogue, poorly staged fights, truly atrocious acting, and a script conceived during a blinding mezcal bender. What's not to love? Queue it. Watch it. Santo contra los asesinos de otros mundos premiered in Mexico today in 1973.
You got anything to eat around here? I'm famished.
Seven hundred sixty-five thousand problems.
After a week of films with plots climaxing in robberies, 1973's Charley Varrick gets the heist out of the way on the heels of opening credits. Unfortunately, it goes violently, lethally wrong for Walter Matthau and his partners. Worse, though they clear $765,000, the stolen money belongs to a mafia clan that had been using the bank as a laundry and wants every dollar back. Add in a statewide dragnet, a brash and alcoholic partner, and cops out to avenge a dead colleague, and you have a tangled web indeed. The question of whether to keep the money never really comes up. The smart move is to return it. But Matthau may not get the chance to do it before he's ventilated by the mafia gunman on his trail.
The Noir City Film Festival's desire to push beyond the confines of noir has led to the inclusion of movies far outside the genre. This is another one festival organizers want seen in a new light. But it's missing something. While there's a heist and gunplay, Varrick is not a character we ever considered to be at serious risk of dying, which means a critical feature of film noir is missing—menace. Matthau is simply miscast. He's the guy from Hello Dolly! and Cactus Flower, after all. He isn't going to get shot. Oops. What was that we were saying about no more spoilers? Oh well. Now you know he lives. Sorry. You may still like Charley Varrick, even though it plays like an ambitious television movie. It's not noir, but it's not bad.
The best defense is a good offense.
Four robbers knock off a bank in Kansas City with plans to split the money after the heat has cooled. The mastermind behind the job has arranged it so the crooks don't meet before the job, and wear masks during it, thus can't possibly identify each other. But each man has an ace, torn in half to create a unique mate, to match with the second half and confirm his identity when the time comes. It all sounds clever and foolproof, except the mastermind has framed someone for the robbery to throw police off their trail, and when this man is arrested but turned loose from police custody due to lack of evidence, he decides to track down the men who set him up.
This character, played by John Payne, is our anti-hero and looming wrench in theives' works. He quickly picks up the trail of one of the robbers in Mexico, but the police have too. In trying to discover who framed him, Payne could look to these lurking cops as though he's a member of the gang—if they spot him, that is. When Payne sees an opportunity to adopt one of the robber's identities—no difficult task since they've never seen each other—he leaps at it, but this draws him in even deeper. He's now in danger from the men he's playing imposter to, while to the cops he looks like a participant in the robbery.
There are more twists, including a star-crossed romance with Coleen Gray, but we'll stop there. This is a nice, multi-layered film noir, with good performances all around. Considering the risk Payne has to take we aren't sure we fully buy his motivation, but once he's made the decision there's no easy way out, and it's fun to watch him threaten and beat his way up the chain to the top guy. Coleen Gray always adds a nice element to any movie she's in, and Lee Van Cleef is good in a tough guy role. The only serious blemish here may be the silly final minute, but you shouldn't let it ruin the film for you. We recommend giving this one a whirl.
Section of CIA trove of declassified material reveals research into psychic phenomena.
The Central Intelligence Agency has just published 800,000 formerly classified files online. The data dump, comprising some 13 million separate documents, isn't technically new. The files had been declassified years ago, but had only been available at the National Archives in Maryland, on only four computers tucked away at the back of the building which were accessible only during business hours. A freedom-of-information group called MuckRock sued the CIA and forced it to upload the collection, and the process took more than two years. Among the discoveries in the trove are documents related to the Stargate Project, which was tasked with examining psychic phenomena. A subset of those investigations involved celebrity paranormalist Uri Geller in 1973.
For those who don't know, Geller is a guy who used to show up on television programs like The Tonight Show and perform various paranormal tricks. His fame drew the roving gaze of the CIA, and they had him come in for a series of tests. No word on whether he had a choice in the matter. The testers ultimately reached the conclusion that Geller was legit, stating in the declassified dox that he had, “demonstrated his paranormal perceptual ability in a convincing and unambiguous manner.” How did they reach that conclusion? Through doubleblind experiments, one of which involved sealing Geller in a room, having a worker make a drawing, and asking Geller to recreate the drawing without having seen it. The images above and below show three of the original drawings, and Geller's eerily accurate renderings.
Geller made a nice career for himself finding hidden objects, bending spoons, and reproducing hidden sketches, but the really interesting part is he may have been a spy. In 2013, a BBC documentary titled The Secret Life of Uri Geller–Psychic Spy? claimed Geller worked for the CIA, was recruited by Mossad, and performed such missions as using only the power of his mind to erase floppy discs carried by KGB agents. Geller allegedly spent years in Mexico working as security for President José López Portillo, and the aforementioned documentary suggests he was also involved in some capacity in the famed Israeli hostage rescue in Entebbe, Uganda in 1976. It may take a few more CIA declassifications before we get to the bottom of all that.
Geller is still around at age seventy (looking about fifty, which might the most convincing evidence yet of his paranormal ability) and he still appears in news reports for antics such as purchasing Lamb Island, off the eastern coast of Scotland, which was the site of many witch trials, and for building a 12 foot-tall statue of a gorilla made from40,000 metal spoons. We aren't believers in psychic ability or any form of the paranormal. And we won't be unless we see evidence proving these realms exist. But the CIA said Geller was the real deal, so that's worth something. Of course, they also said Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, so maybe their opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1944—Bandleader Glenn Miller Disappears
World famous big band leader Glenn Miller, who was flying from England to Paris in a small plane, disappears over the English Channel. One theory holds that his plane was knocked down by bombs jettisoned from bombers passing high above after an aborted raid on Germany, but no cause of his disappearance is officially listed, and no trace of Miller, the crew, or the plane is ever found.
1973—Getty Heir Found Alive
John Paul Getty III, grandson of American billionaire J. Paul Getty, is found alive near Naples, Italy, after being kidnapped by an Italian gang on July 10, 1973. The gang members had cut off his ear and mailed it to Getty III, but he otherwise is in good health.
1911—Team Reaches South Pole
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, along with his team Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting, becomes the first person to reach the South Pole. After a celebrated career, Amundsen eventually disappears in 1928 while returning from a search and rescue flight at the North Pole. His body is never found.
1944—Velez Commits Suicide
Mexican actress Lupe Velez, who was considered one of the great beauties
of her day, commits suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. In her note, Velez says she did it to avoid bringing shame on her unborn child by giving birth to him out of wedlock, but many Hollywood historians believe bipolar disorder was the actual cause. The event inspired a 1965 Andy Warhol film entitled Lupe
1958—Gordo the Monkey Lost After Space Flight
After a fifteen minute flight into space on a Jupiter AM-13 rocket, a monkey named Gordo splashes down in the South Pacific but is lost after his capsule sinks. The incident sparks angry protests from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but NASA says animals are needed for such tests.
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