|Vintage Pulp||Dec 8 2011|
Above is a rare Citizen Kane lobby card, produced for the film’s West German run, which, as you might imagine, didn’t occur until well after World War II for the 1941-produced film. This shot has Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten. It was sent over by our friends at National Road Books, and as always, we appreciate their generosity, especially with items this rare (the text in the inset box reads: “Descriptor: especially valuable”). See more here, including a rare shot of Dorothy Comingore.
|Modern Pulp | Vintage Pulp||Feb 15 2011|
James M. Cain was never one to shy away from provocative subject matter, and The Butterfly, published in 1946, is no exception. In this one a middle-aged coal miner arrives at his backwoods home one day to find a nineteen year-old girl sitting on his stoop. It turns out she’s his long lost daughter, who he’s never known because his wife left him eighteen years ago. The girl, Kady, is precocious to say the least, which means seduction inevitably follows and, just as inevitably, dangerous complications pile up rather quickly. But nothing is quite what it seems and by the end, paternity is in doubt all over the place. The Butterfly isn’t considered one of Cain’s best, but we thought it was a diverting read, certainly worth the time spent. As with most Cain books, it had many editions, but this one is the 1964 Dell paperback, which we think has the best cover art.
Moving on to the 1982 film adaptation, entitled simply Butterfly, we find ourselves running out of kind words. The film starred Pia Zadora, and while it generated some good reviews and a lot of publicity owing to its supposed steaminess, time has since rendered a judgment and it isn't a kind one. Zadora was not the person for the role of Kady. We have little doubt she's alluring in real life, but cinema is not real life and it takes more than just ordinary beauty to light up the screen as a femme fatale. Same with men. Bogart wasn’t a classic looker, but he had that thing. Zadora doesn’t. The critics who defended her in this role are still answering for it today, and her award as Newcomer of the Year ranks as one of the Golden Globes' biggest embarrassments. Despite her unwonderful performance, Butterfly is worth a glance for its camp factor, as well as for appearances by Orson Welles as a smalltown judge and Ed McMahon as a boozehound. But if you really want to be entertained, read the book instead.
|Vintage Pulp||Jan 22 2011|
Above, a Spanish-language poster for Orson Welles’ classic noir Sombras del Mal, which would translate to “Shadows of Evil”, instead of what the film was really named—Touch of Evil. Welles’ later-period noir is considered by many critics to be a masterpiece, as well as the last true noir ever made. We may talk about the film more a bit later. It premiered in Spain today in 1962.
|The Naked City | Vintage Pulp||Oct 7 2010|
We double up on the murders today, thanks to the always informative true crime magazine Master Detective. This issue is from October 1954, with Barye Phillips cover art, and amongst the horrors revealed is one involving Massachusetts spouses Melvin and Lorraine Clark. The Clarks were heavy into key-swapping parties, at which opposite sexes blindly selected each other's keys from a bowl or sack to randomly determine who would be whose companion for the evening. If you’ve ever seen the Sigourney Weaver movie The Ice Storm, it was exactly like that—a few drinks, a few joints, and some freewheeling, no-strings-attached sex. But when Melvin came home the night of April 10, 1954, and found Lorraine in bed with another man outside the context of a swapping party, an argument ensued that escalated to the point where Lorraine stabbed her husband with a knitting needle and shot him twice. She wrapped Melvin’s body in chicken wire, weighed him down with a cement block or two, and dumped him off Rocks Village Bridge into the Merrimack River, where the current was supposed to carry him out to sea.
Lorraine never expected to see her husband again we can be sure, and even filed for divorce as part of her cover story, claiming he had abandoned her after a bitter confrontation. But Melvin hadn’t abandoned her—in fact, he hadn’t gone far at all. A bird watcher found his mostly skeletonized body in a riverside marsh in early June. Under police questioning Lorraine caved in pretty much immediately and, long story short, earned a life sentence in federal prison. She never named an accomplice, but no bodybuilder she, it seemed clear she could not have done the heavy lifting involved in the murder without a helping hand. Also, for someone who had little to no experience with firearms, she sure had good aim. Melvin had taken one in the forehead and one in the temple. But Mrs. Clark was not pressed to name a partner in crime, did her time in silence, and was eventually paroled. In retrospect, you wonder if local bigwigs wanted the case to go away. After all, you meet the most interesting people when you swap.
Master Detective treats us to a second fascinating story, this one on Italian fashion model Wilma Montesi, who in April 1953 was found dead on Plinius Beach near Ostia, Italy. Police declared her death a suicide oraccidental drowning—case closed. But the public had many questions. How had she drowned in just a few inches of water? If it was suicide, why had she shown no signs of depression? Why were her undergarments in disarray? The police weren’t keen to reopen the case, but agreed to an informal re-investigation. Weeks later they announced once more: suicide or accidental drowing. But the public suspected cops weren’t trying to reach any other conclusion.
When the editor of the neo-fascist paper Attualita charged in print seven months later that Wilma Montesi had not gone to Ostia the day of her death, but to a fancy hunting lodge in nearby Capocotto, the story was not just ignored—Italian authorities hauled the editor before a court and threatened him with charges for spreading false information. But his tale was backed up by a witness—Anna Maria Caglio, who had spent time at the lodge and dropped a bomb on Italian society when she said it was a front for drugs and sex parties—sort of like The Ice Storm again, but with much richer and more powerful people involved. By powerful, we're talking about judges, politicians, the Pope’s personal physician and other Vatican officials, and the well-connected Foreign Minister’s son Piero Piccioni, who you see pictured just above.
When the national Communist party began making waves, the carabinièri—Italy’s military police—stepped in. Like the local cops, they weren’t keen to pursue the case, but they weren’t about to let the Communists break it open and potentially expose the corruption of the entire political establishment. The carabinièri’s involvement angered many upper crust Italians, but when their officers walked the streets during those months the general public literally applauded them for daring to tread where the police had not. Their investigation soon focused on Piccioni, who besides being the scion of a political family was a famous jazz composer. But Piccioni had an alibi—at the time of the murder he was in the house of actress Alida Valli in Amalfi, where he claimed to be sick in bed. Rumors sprang up that he was Valli’s lover. Why did anyone care? Because Valli, a big star at the time who had appeared in Orson Welles’ The Third Man, was married to another famous musician, Oscar de Mejo. The case was now a full-blown media circus.
This is the way it may have gone: every direction the carabinièri turned, politically connected Italians threw up walls in their path. Alternatively, it may have gone like this: the carabinièri made a noisy show of annoying a few heavy hitters, but were only performing for a suspicious and cynical public. What was clear was very powerful people wanted the orgiastic activities in Capacotto forgotten. Behind-the-scenes manuvering was rife. Anna Maria Caglio even wrote a letter to the Pope warning him that there were people around him who meant him harm, presumably because they wanted to expose the involvement of Vatican officials in the late night shenanigans at the lodge. Pressure came down from the highest levels of the Italian establishment to put the case to bed quickly. It wasn’t quick. But neither was it necessarily thorough. Eventually four people were brought to trial, including Piero Piccioni. All were acquitted. Perhaps the only consequence of the investigation is that it became one of the most celebrated mysteries of all time, inspiring many books, and even a symbolic reference in the incomparable Federico Fellini film La Dolce Vita. But what really happened to Wilma Montesi? Nobody knows. Today the case is still unsolved.
|Vintage Pulp||Sep 3 2010|
The 1949 film noir The Third Man is a best-case-scenario of what can happen when great talents collaborate. Carol Reed directs, Orson Welles, Alida Valli and Joseph Cotten act from a screenplay penned by master storyteller Graham Greene, and the cinematographer is Robert Krasker. Krasker won an Academy Award for his work here, and when you see the velvety blacks and knifing shadows of his nighttime set-ups, as well as the famed scenes shot in the cavernous Vienna sewers and bombed out quadrants of the city center, you’ll understand why. The story involves a pulp writer named Holly Martins who arrives in a partitioned post-war Vienna only to find that his friend Harry Lime is dead, run down by a truck. When Martins learns that the police are disinterested in the circumstances of Lime’s demise, he decides to do what one of his pulp characters would do—take matters into his own hands. But nothing adds up. He learns that Lime died instantly, or survived long enough to utter a few last words. He finds that Lime was a racketeer, or possibly not. And he discovers that two men were present when Lime died—or possibly three. That third man seems to be the key to the mystery, but he proves to be damnably elusive. We can’t recommend this film highly enough. Above you see a pair of rare Japanese posters from The Third Man’s premiere in Tokyo today in 1952.
|Mondo Bizarro||Oct 30 2009|
Since it’s nearly Halloween—our favorite American holiday by far—we thought we’d show you this monster that was found in Venezuela. It’s supposed to be a siren. Allegedly, a local oil worker managed to snap these photos before government officials showed up and whisked the carcass away. Or so the story goes. Fact or fiction? We’ll defer to Orson Welles on this one.
|Intl. Notebook||Oct 30 2009|
Today in 1938, Orson Welles vaulted into stardom by narrating his famous radio presentation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. In adapting the novel, which concerns an invasion by malevolent Martians bent on the total destruction of humanity, Welles decided to use fictional news bulletins to describe the action. These were presented without commercial breaks, leaving listeners to decide whether the familiar sounding news flashes were truthful. Since a radio show had never used the news flash for dramatic purposes, many people were confused. The public reaction was described at the time as a panic, but historians now dispute that claim, suggesting that newspapers embellished the stories to make radio look bad. At the time print media feared radio would put them out of business, so they took advantage of an opportunity to deride radio broadcasters as irresponsible.
Newspaper embellishments notwithstanding, there is no doubt the broadcast caused widespread anxiety. Only the first forty minutes of the show were in bulletin format—after that it would have been clear to listeners they were hearing a dramatization. But not everyone listened to the full hour. In the tense atmosphere that had been created by the lead-up to World War II, many people assumed they were listening to a broadcast about attacking Germans, rather than Martians. Some people left their homes, either to confirm events with neighbors, or to try and see the invaders for themselves. A crowd gathered in Grover’s Mills, New Jersey, where the attack was reported have begun. If there was indeed a panic, it subsided quickly when it became clear there were no invaders. In the end there was only one long-lasting effect from the broadcast—Orson Welles, who had been just another radio personality, became the most famous man in America.
|Vintage Pulp||Oct 14 2009|
The casting of Charlton Heston as Ramón Miguel Vargas has been thoroughly discussed pretty much everywhere, and those criticisms are understandable. Certainly, an actor such as, say, Ricardo Montalbán would have shone where Heston merely sufficed, but 1958 audiences would have disliked lily white Janet Leigh being hooked up with an actual latino actor. People overlook that when they criticize Heston's casting. Welles made a racial statement by swapping the ethnicities of the central couple from Whit Masterson's source novel, in which the cop was white and his wife was Mexican. That's as far as he was willing to go. Cinema mirrors the age in which it was produced. It’s okay to use our modern world as a prism through which to examine the circumstances around an old film, but it’s best do so respectfully, because somewhere in the future people with their own prisms will be looking upon our age, and it won’t look so good to them. Touch of Evil played in Sweden for the first time today in 1958.
|Vintage Pulp | Swindles & Scams||Mar 12 2009|
Orson Welles’ Vérités et mensonges, aka F for Fake is a documentary meditation on the nature of fraud, forgery and lies that slowly expands to discuss the fragility and impermanence of all human creations. Shot in France and Spain, the film follows two main subjects—Clifford Irving, who infamously wrote a fake biography of Howard Hughes, and master art forger Elmyr de Hory. At the time of filming Irving had served jail time for his crimes, but de Hory was living on Ibiza, safe from prosecution because the many museums that owned his forgeries feared the scandals sure to result if the works were exposed as false.
De Hory’s fake paintings would never have been bought by museums if art experts hadn’t declared them legitimate. The experts were unwitting accomplices to his crimes. Clifford Irving’s fate was likewise determined by experts. He admitted his Howard Hughes biography was phony after Hughes released an audiotape claiming the two had never met, but since Hughes was a recluse who hadn’t been seen for years, how did anyone know it was really him speaking? You guessed it—a panel of experts, i.e. people who had met him, listened to the tapes and agreed the voice was his. But if art experts can’t be relied upon to determine real paintings from fake, how can a bunch of self-described Hughes experts be trusted to verify a voice on a tape? What would have happened if Irving had never confessed? Would the faker have joined the ranks of the legitimate, enshrined there for eternity? And ultimately, when everything of value hangs by such a fragile thread, does any of it have true worth?
Interesting questions, and Welles doesn’t exempt his own field from examination. He discusses his War of the Worlds broadcast, along with the fakery of acting in general. He even makes Vérités et mensonges a bit of a fake by adding sequences from a movie shot by a different director, and constantly dispelling the illusion of filmmaking by showing camera men and sound techs. It’s easy to imagine that Welles, were he alive today, would have been intrigued by the current economic crisis, and the roles played by financial regulators in the U.S. who falsely labeled billions in dodgy investment packages as safe for purchase. These men were either experts without expertise, or forgers with the power to declare their forgeries genuine. Welles probably would have loved that.
Vérités et mensonges was slammed upon release but, as often happens, the art has outlasted its detractors and now most film mavens hail it as a triumph. This too fits perfectly with Welles’ thesis. The works of humans are certain to outlast their creators and critics, but in the end all must—as he says—“fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash.” Not very upbeat. But he also tells us, “Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing.” That's a sentiment we can get behind. Vérités et mensonges opened in France today in 1975.
|Vintage Pulp||Mar 2 2009|
Les Yeux san visage, aka Eyes without a Face, is a macabre and artful French film about a plastic surgeon, played by Pierre Brasseur, who is obsessed with finding a new face for his disfigured daughter. Like most mad scientists, Brasseur is worthy of both pity and scorn, as his corrosive guilt over having caused the accident that ruined his daughter's life drives him to steal faces from other women. Every mad scientist has a sidekick, and here the role is ably filled by Alida Valli, who noir buffs remember from Orson Welles’ great The Third Man.
Anyway, you just know a scheme involving kidnapping women and stealing their faces has to go awry at some point, but to find out what happens you’ll have to rent the film. In the meantime enjoy the brilliant promo art, which comes in two versions, both featuring the film’s central image—that of disfigured Edith Scob gazing forlornly from behind a white mask. Les Yeux san visage received mixed reviews when it opened, but art has a way of outlasting critics, and now director Georges Franju’s brooding little horror tale is an acknowledged classic. It even inspired Billy Idol to write a hit song—and that can't be bad. Les Yeux san visage premiered in France today in 1960.