Last stop—the city morgue.
Watching lots of movies eventually brings everything your way. The promo poster for Grand Central Murder lured us, and we found ourselves watching an archetypal Sherlockian whodunnit, complete with the villain unmasked in the final moments. When a Broadway showgirl is murdered on a private train car the police gather a gaggle of suspects and go through each of their stories trying to uncover the killer. Among the detainees—her escaped convict boyfriend, her sad sack ex-husband, her jealous co-worker, her phony psychic stepfather, her theatrical understudy, and others, including the convict's lawyer, played by lead actor Van Heflin. Various alibis and reminiscences are shown in flashback until the killer is revealed via a monologue that wraps everything up nice and neat. We wouldn't call the movie screamingly thrilling and funny like the poster does, but it's okay if you like mysteries, and the mass transit backdrop is actually kind of interesting. Grand Central Murder premiered in New York City today in 1942.
The cover tries to shift the blame, but Sweet and Deadly is man-on-man mayhem at its most basic.
The cover of Sweet and Deadly is pulp style, thanks to Zenith Books' 1959 rebranding of Philip MacDonald and A. Boyd Correll's 1948 novel The Dark Wheel, but this is actually more a melodrama than a true pulp style novel. And there's no femme fatale, as implied by the title. What you get here is a tangled web woven by men in love, women with ambition, and an homme fatale who has a serious mental problem.
To detail it a bit more, when a rich man's actress wife dies, he begins habitually attending the play in which she starred, so that he can observe and obsess over her replacement. Not healthy. The new actress has a psychosomatically paralyzed husband who she thinks will be cured if his brilliant new play is produced. So, not knowing anything about her rich secret admirer, she's steered in his direction looking for financial backing, and unwittingly sets into motion his plan to murder her husband and take his place.
However you categorize this one, it was good, if a bit contrived in reaching its climax. Set in the rarefied world of New York City's performing arts community, with characters that are all actors, playwrights, producers, and such, it felt fresh compared to the career criminals that often populate the books we read. Perhaps its most serious flaw—one we always hate—is that its cover art is uncredited.
Cleo Moore tries to picture a better life.
The drama Over-Exposed came with the mighty cool promotional poster you see above, and we think it perfectly captures the amoral, tabloid-style themes of the film. Cleo Moore plays a woman at loose ends who meets a kindly photographer and decides to learn his trade. She quickly shows a talent for camera work, moves to New York City, and schemes her way into increasingly better jobs in pursuit of money and fame. She gets plenty of both, and also scores a gig as the house photographer at Club Coco, a mobster backed watering hole where she eventually lands in a big kettle of red hot trouble.
There are aspects of Over-Exposed that play differently now than they would have even a dozen years ago. Richard Crenna as her love interest is bummed to be taking more and more of a back seat as Moore climbs the ladder. This friction is portrayed sympathetically toward Crenna, with Moore shown to be losing her soul, but modern viewers might find this sexist, and point out that ambitious women are nearly always treated shabbily—both in vintage cinema and modern life. So in that sense there's unintended feminist tension to the movie that makes it more complex than you'd expect going in.
You'll see Over-Exposed labeled a film noir in many places, but it's one of those movies that mostly doesn't fit the brief. It isn't until the climax that it has the look and feel of noir. This wasn't uncommon—numerous old movies spent eighty minutes as pure drama before turning to noir stylings to spice up their finales. The Time To Kill, which we talked about a while ago, is a prime example. So is Over-Exposed a film noir? Ultimately, we think not, but when borrowing from the genre it does so better than most. An improbable but enjoyable flick, it premiered this month in 1956.
What's gloves got to do with it?
Austrian born actress Marisa Mell made this photo when she was starring in the 1966 Italian thriller New York chiama Superdrago, aka Secret Agent Superdragon, and what it shows is that opera gloves are the female spy's equivalent to James Bond's bow ties. Shooting someone is an important occasion, and the least you can do is dress formally when you do it. The title of this movie alone—we seriously must watch it. We'll report back.
People say romance is dead now, but in this magazine it was on life support a long time ago.
In parts of the world today is Valentine's Day, so in commemoration of this lovely corporate holiday we have this issue of True Romances, with awesome cover art painted by Georgia Warren. It goes way back to 2012. Well, it goes back, really, to 1935. But for us it goes back to 2012, when we picked it up on a trip to Denver. We gave it to one of the Pulp Intl. girlfriends, and she was flattered, but strangely, never read it. She prefers to read about cryptocurrencies for some reason. So after a while we took the magazine back, and now we've torn it apart and scanned it. We actually swore not to damage it, but it was impossible to scan something so fragile and keep that promise, so now Romances is truly dead.
But it's not a great loss, because there isn't much romance in the magazine anyway—certainly not enough to lure P.I.1 away from her cryptocurrency news. There are a few sweet stories, yes, but it's mostly emotional extortion and body shaming. Scan five, titled “Mental Cases I Have Met,” pretty much encapsulates the entire enterprise. Turns out the mental cases were suffering from a lack of confidence in their maxi pads. The P.I. girlfriends say all of this had to be written by men, and they could be right, though most of the credits are feminine. We tend to think the attributions are accurate, but we'll never know. Below we have almost forty scans from this rare publication, and whether the content was created by men in disguise or not, from a 2019 perspective it's all pretty enjoyable. See for yourself.
It should have launched a memorable career but didn't quite work out that way.
Do people who like film noir also like NFL football? We ask because the Noir City Film Festival wraps up tonight in head-to-head competition with the Super Bowl. For football haters, the fest is a chance to get out of Super Bowl households for the duration of the game, but for others it's a tough choice. Film noir and football are similar. Both feature hardheaded men pitted in mortal struggle against forces arrayed against them. Both feature unexpected plot twists. Both put physical safety at risk. In both cheating is rampant (at least when the Patriots are involved). In neither is victory assured. We wonder what the festival organizers would have done if the 49ers had made it to the title game. Hah hah‚ that's a joke. They knew—everybody knew—the 49ers would suck this year.
Anyway, tonight the festival features two films, one of which is 1961's Blast of Silence. Written, directed by, and starring Allen Baron, the film is a fascinating counterpoint to Stanley Kubrick's Killer's Kiss, which showed at Noir City a few days ago. Both are low budget crime thrillers shot in New York City about men desperate for better lives whose needs center on women. Where Kubrick's protagonist is a pug boxer whose interest in a beautiful neighbor makes him want out of the ring, Baron plays a killer-for-hire whose random encounter with a woman from his youth triggers second thoughts about his chosen career.
Many reviews of Blast of Silence are of the glowing variety, but while it's seamlessly put together and the noir flourishes are well executed, it suffers from Baron's acting, as well as that of other performers. But everyone loves an auteur in the rough. It's easy to look past the acting and see Baron's behind-the-camera talent. Given a chance he might have had a very different career. Watching Blast of Silence you can imagine it. Like gruff voiced narrator Lionel Stander says at one point, “You get a feeling this is how it was meant to be.”
Instead Baron put together one more low budget movie before migrating into television, where he intermittently directed shows like The Brady Bunch and Charlie's Angels. Hmm... Brady like Tom Brady and Angels like Los Angeles? Um... where were we? Oh yes. It's amazing how Baron's career diverged from Kubrick's despite both making low budget NYC thrillers of similar quality. Was Baron as talented as Kubrick? We aren't saying that. Just that it would have been interesting to see what his cinematic career might have looked like. But if film noir teaches anything it's that in life, as in football, things don't always work out the way they should. Go Rams.
Widmark/Peters noir looks great and packs a punch.
It wouldn't be a film noir festival without at least one anti-commie thriller and Pickup on South Street is it. The movie stars Richard Widmark as a two-bit pickpocket who lifts a wallet during an NYC subway ride and unexpectedly ends up with a priceless government secret meant to be given to commie spies by a cabal of sweaty traitors. Widmark sneers his way into a position where he thinks he can sell the stolen info for fifty grand. He's got another think coming.
Best line: If you refuse to cooperate you'll be as guilty as the traitors that gave Stalin the A bomb!
Well, Stalin had help from spies but we don't think any gave him the bomb like a borscht recipe. He had help on other fronts as well, including from captured German scientists and homegrown Russian knowhow, but this is film noir, so go with it. The good team vs. bad team dynamic continues throughout, and numerous people try to convince Widmark to put his own interests aside and play for the home squad. They're wasting their breath.
The movie co-stars Jean Peters, a good actress and amazing knockout who's been a bit forgotten, even though she was in a few other good films and went on to marry nutball billionaire Howard Hughes. Her opening scene on a humid subway will stick with you. Sadly, she harbors yet another inexplicable film noir infatuation with a male lead who's about as nice as a sack of cold dick tips, but this is film noir so go with it. Ditto for the pushing and slapping Peters endures. She's even knocked cold by Widmark in their initial encounter. Deliberately.
His apology: You okay or did I bust something?
These sly flirtations increase Peters' ardor. The female heart wants what it wants, at least in the minds of wannabe-tough-guy Hollywood screenwriters. That screenwriter would be Samuel Fuller, who actually was acquainted with the underworld from his days as a crime reporter. So it could be that he knew more about gutter love than we do, but we doubt it. Here's what really matters—Peters absolutely kills her role, and does her own stunts too. Thelma Ritter, later of Rear Window, also gets a pivotal turn and nails her part as a tired older lady just trying to get by.
In the end Pickup on South Street comes full circle. While it's about patriotism, and trying to survive in New York City with zero means, and a weird kind of masochistic 1953 infatuation we'll never really understand, it starts with pickpocketing and eventually returns, in a symmetry that feels very modern in screenwriting terms, to that idea for the excellent climax. With Fuller directing and Joe MacDonald handling the cinematography, the final result is a knockout in both senses of the word—looks great, packs a punch.
Around the world in sixty pages.
Exotic Adventures was a men's magazine put out by NYC based Gladiator Publications, Inc. It seems obvious the company had great ambitions, but it managed only six issues before folding. This one came in 1959 with cover art signed “Louis,” whose full identity is not given. In fact, only three people are listed as staff—editor George P. Wallace and two others—so the cover artist wasn't the only hard worker who got short shrift. The individual authors are given bylines, though, as are the men who narrated their "true" tales to biographers.
Exotic Destinations lived up to its name, with pieces set in Kashmir, French Cameroon, Morocco, Honduras, Malaya, and Borneo, and nude models who are supposedly from Japan, Brazil, France, and Germany. It was all printed on glossy paper, which is why you won't see the usual yellowing you get with old magazines, though the printing got a little streaky and inconsistent in the middle pages. Still, taken as a whole Exotic Adventures is a high quality publication, which we snared courtesy of the now idle Darwin's Scans blog. Forty-plus panels below.
Need a service animal? He's happy to do the job.
Harold W. McCauley is responsible for this simple but effective cover for 1961's Lover. His image captures the main character Johnny Wells' aura of unhappiness. Johnny is a young New York City hustler who decides to become an uptown gigolo. Starting with a few hundred dollars of ill-gotten gains, he transforms himself into a cultured, hotel-dwelling manhooker who services upper class women. While great at his job, his sexual misadventures take a toll. These include being spurned by a favorite customer who realizes she prefers women, being the unwilling centerpiece of an orgy, and more. The most curious bit is how Johnny's main love interest is a 14-year-old girl from around the way. Author Lawrence Block, hiding behind the Andrew Shaw pseudonym, makes no comment about how strange and possibly illegal this relationship is, and after a while you realize he never planned to. Block can write, so in general Lover reads smoothly, which is about the most you can hope for with this genre. Does that mean it's worth checking out? Well... we wouldn't go that far.
From behind the microscope to in front of the camera.
You don't know U.S. actress Emily Yancy but she's been around for a long time. She started performing on television in 1963 and is still going strong as of 2018. Of her few cinematic efforts two were notable—the blaxploitation classics Cotton Comes to Harlem and Blacula. Her small screen appearances include Starsky & Hutch, The Mod Squad, and MacGyver.
The above photo is from 1961, and it was made when she was eighteen years old and competing in the Miss American Beauty Pageant, not be confused with the Miss America Pageant. Interesting story, she was a biology major and was working at NYU Medical Center operating an electron microscope when her coworkers persuaded her to give parading up and down a stage in a swimsuit a shot. She won Miss American Beauty, which gave her a chance to compete again in France.
She was sent to Cannes and finished second in the Miss Cannes Film Festival competition. After that Hollywood called and those boring old electrons were forgotten. Television, film, nightclub performing, modeling and a lot of travel followed. There's a lesson in this story, and maybe not one that should be taught to little girls—Forget science! Give us a little leg!—but you don't need a microscope to see that Yancy takes a great picture, and her career longevity suggests she made a good choice.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1930—Amy Johnson Flies from England to Australia
English aviatrix Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia. She had departed from Croydon on May 5 and flown 11,000 miles to complete the feat. Her storied career ends in January 1941 when, while flying a secret mission for Britain, she either bails out into the Thames estuary and drowns, or is mistakenly shot down by British fighter planes. The facts of her death remain clouded today.
1934—Bonnie and Clyde Are Shot To Death
Outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who traveled the central United States during the Great Depression robbing banks, stores and gas stations, are ambushed and shot to death in Louisiana by a posse of six law officers. Officially, the autopsy report lists seventeen separate entrance wounds on Barrow and twenty-six on Parker, including several head shots on each. So numerous are the bullet holes that an undertaker claims to have difficulty embalming the bodies because they won't hold the embalming fluid.
1942—Ted Williams Enlists
Baseball player Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox enlists in the United States Marine Corps, where he undergoes flight training and eventually serves as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. The years he lost to World War II (and later another year to the Korean War) considerably diminished his career baseball statistics, but even so, he is indisputably one of greatest players in the history of the sport.
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