Vintage Pulp Jan 30 2018
DARK BLUE
Los Angeles homecoming goes awry for Alan Ladd.


The Blue Dahlia is often cited as a top film noir, but it really isn't. That didn't matter to the Hollywood movers and shakers who nominated Raymond Chandler's screenplay for an Oscar, but we suspect the nod was for stringing together hard boiled dialogue, since it certainly wasn't for stringing together a coherent plot. The movie tells the story of a vet who returns home to find his wife cheating with the shady owner of a Hollywood nightclub. When she's murdered, the husband is sought by police, but he goes fugitive and attempts to find the real killer. With pretty boy Alan Ladd in the lead, plus support from Veronica Lake, William Bendix, and the beautiful Doris Dowling, The Blue Dahlia has a lot going for it, including a cool nocturnal vibe, but a script too reliant on improbable occurrences and Lake's flat performance in a basically ornamental role keep it from being upper echelon. It's worth a watch just to see Bendix go bathouse crazy every time he hears what he calls “monkey music,” but go into it knowing there are at least twenty better films in the genre. 

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Vintage Pulp Dec 24 2017
A LETHAL REWRITE
Michael Shayne stabs Phillip Marlowe in the back.


Above you see a promo poster for the detective yarn Time To Kill, a movie that premiered in the U.S. today in 1943 and has a mildly convoluted provenance that will be interesting to pulp fans. Mystery authors Brett Halliday and Raymond Chandler were both popular writers, but Twentieth Century Fox had already made six movies based on Halliday's novels. So they bought Chandler's The High Window and changed the main character from Phillip Marlowe to Halliday's franchise detective Michael Shayne. We don't know if Chandler and Halliday had any sort of rivalry to that point, but we wouldn't be surprised if one started.

Fox had made the previous Shayne flicks in just two years, and they're light in tone, which is one reason we think websites that label Time To Kill a film noir are stretching. The lead character is not a driven loner, the general sense of corruption is nowhere to be found, and most of the usual noir iconography, such as rain or water, neon, newspapers, sidewalks, etc., is absent. No flashbacks. No voiceover. Nothing. Co-star Doris Merrick is a femme fatale perhaps, but virtually any woman in a crime thriller can fit that cubbyhole. Then surprise—four fifths of the way through its running time the movie shifts gears—Shayne walks into a nighttime murder scene that's draped with shadows and ill portent, but even this is played for laughs when he pratfalls down a staircase. And the ultimate fate of the villain is basically a bad barroom joke.


Director Herbert Leeds had worked on a variety of low budget westerns, comedies, and serials, and was a technician, not a stylist. His spliced in noir sequence is a nice nod to an emerging trend, but we don't think it pushes what is mainly a goofball detective film into noir territory. In general, his were a safe pair of hands tasked with churning out movies at high speed. Time To Kill is a typically perfunctory Leeds effort—one hour and one minute long, meant to be consumed like penny candy. So we don't think it's a film noir, but hey—we just run a silly website. What do we know? And does it even matter? Time To Kill is a decent enough distraction, however you categorize it.

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Vintage Pulp Feb 27 2017
LESS THAN HERO
Femmes fatales are tough but are they bulletproof?

We've run across some low characters in paperback art, but these guys are the lowest. Faced with danger they've grabbed the nearest woman to use as a shield. Women in mid-century fiction have it rough—they're interrupted while skinny-dipping, carried off against their will, manhandled, spied on, tied up, and more. They have their victories too, thankfully—put a gun in their hands and they start dropping men like two-foot putts. Well, good thing femmes fatales are so tough, because they'll need to be hard enough to stop bullets to get out of these jams. We shared another cover in the same style back in 2009 and you can see that nice effort here.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 28 2016
PAST IMPERFECT
Phillip Marlowe gets involved in shady business.

Above, a very nice piece of William Rose cover art incorporating a window shade for Raymond Chandler's Playback, from Cardinal Books, 1960. This is the last Phillip Marlowe novel Chandler wrote. It first appeared in Britain in 1958 as a hardback. Basically, it's a missing persons case set in California in which Marlowe is put on the trail of a woman being pursued by various shady figures from her past. Many critics consider it lesser Chandler, but it has its plusses. The mystery blog Bloody Murder agrees, and you can read a detailed positive review there by following this link.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 18 2016
CHARACTER STUDIES
Long live the King—in Yellow, that is.

The interesting cover above for Five Sinister Characters was painted by Paul Stahr and fronts a Raymond Chandler short story collection composed of "Trouble is My Business,” “Pearls Are a Nuisance,” “I'll Be Waiting,” “The Red Wind,” and “The King in Yellow.” Lovecraft fans probably know that last title via its usage by Robert W. Chambers for his 1895 collection of weird stories, which you see at right, but Chandler's “King in Yellow” is unrelated. Chandler's tale involves a tough guy bandleader named King Leopardi who wears yellow suits, while Chambers' collection is, well, weird. But Chandler knew of Chambers and he also knew of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, of which Chambers' fiction is considered a part. Midway through Chandler's tale a character says, “The King in Yellow. I read a book with that title once.” A clear reference to Chambers' macabre work. The influence of that work continues to grow over time—it even made an impact on the first season of True Detective. Originally published by Avon in 1944, this edition of Five Sinister Characters appeared as part of Avon's Murder Mystery Monthly series in 1945. Recommended stuff.

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Vintage Pulp Jul 5 2016
THE BIG SLAP
Raymond Chandler's most memorable hits.

Women were hit often in pulp literature. This cover for Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep depicts just such a moment, as detective Philip Marlowe decides to slap Carmen Sternwood to bring her out of a drug induced stupor. He feels it's for her own good, as he's found her naked in a house where's she's been the subject of pronographic photos. The goal is to get her up and out of the place. Later he hits her again and this time it's more out of annoyance. We could go into our whole thing about how this sort of behavior reflects an assumption on the part of men that they have ownership of women's bodies, but you already know what we're going to say, so let's just give artist Harvey Kidder credit for painting an eye-catching cover. The Big Sleep was originally published in 1939, and this edition appeared in 1950. 
 
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Vintage Pulp Jul 17 2015
ULTIMATE FIGHTING
Vintage paperback violence gets up close and personal.


We have another collection today as we prepare to jet away on vacation with the girls. Since the place we’re going is known for rowdy British tourists (what place isn’t known for that?), we thought we’d feature some of the numerous paperback covers featuring fights. You’ll notice, as with our last collection, the preponderance of French books. Parisian publishers loved this theme. The difference, as opposed to American publishers, is that you almost never saw women actually being hit on French covers (we’d almost go so far as to say it never happened, but we’ve obviously not seen every French paperback ever printed). The French preferred man-on-man violence, and when women were involved, they were either acquitting themselves nicely, or often winning via the use of sharp or blunt instruments.

Violence against women is and has always been a serious problem in the real world, but we’re just looking at products of the imagination here, which themselves represent products of the imagination known as fiction. Content-wise, mid-century authors generally frowned upon violence toward women even if they wrote it into their novels. Conversely, the cover art, stripped of literary context, seemed to glorify it. Since cover art is designed to entice readers, there’s a valid discussion here about why anti-woman violence was deemed attractive on mid-century paperback fronts, and whether its disappearance indicates an understanding of its wrongness, or merely a cynical realization that it can no longer be shown without consequences. We have another fighting cover here, and you may also want to check out our western brawls here.


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Vintage Pulp Jun 13 2015
WHEEL OF MISFORTUNE
They call it the Devil’s wheel for a reason.


It’s been a while since we’ve put together a pulp collection, so below you’ll find vintage cover art that uses the roulette wheel as a central element. They say only suckers play roulette, and that’s especially true in pulp, where even if you win, eventually you lose the money and more. Art is by Ernest Chiriaka, Robert Bonfils, Robert McGinnis, and many others.
 


 
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Vintage Pulp Oct 16 2013
FALLING BODIES
First and last stop—the ground floor.


You know we like themed cover collections. Over at Killer Covers a few days ago there were two book fronts featuring people falling from a height. A light bulb went off and we realized this represented yet another common pulp art motif. As with our other collections, some of these images are from Flickr, so thanks to the original uploaders on those, and thanks to Killer Covers for the two we borrowed from there. To see one more great falling cover we posted a while back, go here.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 5 2012
EXTRA PULP
Black Lizard’s pulp anthology is as thick as an old phone book, but we’ll get through it somehow.

Stay away from the U.S. long enough and when you go back you get really good gifts. The Big Book of Pulps, above, was a belated birthday present—and what a present it is. At over 1,000 pages, this is probably the most comprehensive pulp anthology we’ve ever seen. Published in 2007 by the now defunct pulp revival specialists Black Lizard, the collection contains stories from Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner, James M. Cain, Paul Cain and many others, and is even sprinkled with some ink illustrations. We’ll be working our way through this tome for the next couple of years, no doubt. Which means we should finish just in time to go back to the States again and get another great gift. Thanks Neil S. 

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Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
February 18
1954—First Church of Scientology Established
The first Scientology church, based on the writings of science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, is established in Los Angeles, California. Since then, the city has become home to the largest concentration of Scientologists in the world, and its ranks include high-profile adherents such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
February 17
1933—Blaine Act Passes
The Blaine Act, a congressional bill sponsored by Wisconsin senator John J. Blaine, is passed by the U.S. Senate and officially repeals the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, aka the Volstead Act, aka Prohibition. The repeal is formally adopted as the 21st Amendment to the Constitution on December 5, 1933.
1947—Voice of America Begins Broadcasting into U.S.S.R.
The state radio channel known as Voice of America and controlled by the U.S. State Department, begins broadcasting into the Soviet Union in Russian with the intent of countering Soviet radio programming directed against American leaders and policies. The Soviet Union responds by initiating electronic jamming of VOA broadcasts.
February 16
1937—Carothers Patents Nylon
Wallace H. Carothers, an American chemist, inventor and the leader of organic chemistry at DuPont Corporation, receives a patent for a silk substitute fabric called nylon. Carothers was a depressive who for years carried a cyanide capsule on a watch chain in case he wanted to commit suicide, but his genius helped produce other polymers such as neoprene and polyester. He eventually did take cyanide—not in pill form, but dissolved in lemon juice—resulting in his death in late 1937.
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