Sorry to disappoint you, but we're into each other.
Well no, Leonhard Frank's novella Desire Me isn't about two men in love, but we think it should be, based on the cover art. It's actually a story centered around a clever idea that has been borrowed often since it was first written by Frank in 1926 as the play Karl und Anna. Basically, two men in a prison camp have plenty of idle time to get to know each other. The married prisoner speaks in detail about his wife. When the unmarried one escapes, he seeks out the married one's wife and the two fall in love. Naturally the husband, who his pal had claimed was dead, eventually resurfaces in the town to complicate matters.
This prison identity theft concept is the basis or backstory of many movies, including The House on Telegraph Hill. Returning from presumed wartime death to ruin a wife's new love affair has also been used often, notably in Casablanca. Frank was considered a leading German writer, but his legacy was destroyed when his books were burned by the Nazis before World War II. He actually wrote about this later and noted that even though Hitler lost the war, he largely succeeded in altering Germany's literary history, because many of the authors whose works were burned never regained their former stature. Frank's is a cautionary example about censorship—governments do it because it works.
Donut makers learn something bitter about their past.
Interesting story out of the world of donuts/doughnuts this week, as the Reimann family, originators of Krispy Kreme, (which makes by far the best tasting confections in America), were given a little surprise, and not of the sweet variety. An article in the German tabloid Bild outed the family's ancestors as Nazis. The story is notable because these ancestors weren't just footsoldiers or dull functionaries typing forms in triplicate, but full blown Aryan racists who used slave labor in their business and amassed a huge fortune doing it (that may sound familiar to people on the U.S. side of the ocean, as well). Apparently the family used female Russian and French prisoners, who they beat, sexually abused, and made strip naked for inspections. In July 1937 Albert Reimann, Jr. wrote to SS leader and Holocaust architect Heinrich Himmler and stated that his business was “a purely Aryan family business that is over 100 years old.” He also wrote that, “The owners are unconditional followers of the race theory.”
Reimann, Jr., who you see below, passed much of his fortune along to nine adopted children, four of whom now retain shares of the Krispy Kreme empire. Amazingly, the topping on this tale is that the source of all the info appears to be an ancestry check the family itselfcommissioned on their father. Wealthy clans generally have a firm understanding of their own family tree, what with all the money involved and the potential for virtually anyone to come out of the woodwork claiming to be a twelfth cousin or granddaughter of a patriarch's mistress, but in the case of adoptive children, putting the entire puzzle together sometimes happens later in life or not at all. In any case, the Reimann family, which holds approximately $37 billion in assets, announced that it would give $11 million to charity, or about %0.0003 of the estimated family fortune. Hey, every little bit helps.
It's Ho Chi Minh City (not Saigon). Why they changed it we can't say. People just liked it better that way.
This is a beautiful Spanish poster for the 1947 adventure Saigon, which opened in Madrid today in 1948. The film is one of innumerable mid-century thrillers set in foreign cities. At a time when the rest of the world was so distant and hard to reach, Hollywood fetishized it, romanticized it, and set stories wholly or partly in Mexico, Argentina, Morocco, China, Hong Kong, Martinique, and an entire atlas of other places. But today, with the rest of the world so easy to reach, Hollywood mostly tells audiences they'll be kidnapped or dismembered if they leave home. Saigon is old school. It makes viewers wish they could fly to mystical East Asia. Of course, the film's Saigon doesn't exist anymore, but the fact that Hollywood set a movie there tells you it must have been quite a place. But they say that about all the former colonial cities, don't they? Rangoon, Bombay, and Constantinople, as brilliantly eulogized in the satirical song by The Four Lads, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”
Saigon deals with two recently discharged military buddies played by Alan Ladd and Wally Cassell who decide to stay in Asia to show their terminally ill third pal a good time before he dies in a few months. The third man doesn't know he's ticketed for oblivion, which leads to problems when Veronica Lake takes a liking to him. No mater how romantic old Saigon was, only so many tropical nights and platters of French-Vietnamese fusion cuisine can distract you from the fact that the love-hate relationship between Ladd and Lake is unpalatable. To us, slapping, insults, and over-the-top meanness feels like hate-hate. But put on your retro filter and you'll find a lot of comedy in this film, thanks to motormouth quipster Cassell. Some of his lines are truly clever. It wouldn't be exaggerating to say he makes the first sixty minutes of running time watchable.
When Lake inevitably falls for Ladd even though he's been treating her like a disease for hundreds of nautical miles, you'll accept it because it's a motif in old movies—though usually managed with a lot more charm and finesse. Overall we consider Saigon recommendable, but just barely. You know what we really took away from this movie, though? What you needed to do back then was open a shop and sell white suits. You'd have made a fortune. There are more white suits here than you can count. Far more than in Casablanca or Our Man in Havana. This film will make you wonder whether you can pull off the white suit. But even if you looked okay in it where would you wear it these days? Like old Saigon, that city is gone.
Ah hah! There you are, Stabsgefreiter Schultz, out of uniform and with Unterfeldwebel Dietrich's wife, no less.
Nazis ruin everything—even romantic seaside trysts. As it happens though, the scene depicted on this cover of J. Bigelow Clark's The Dreamers never occurs, and in fact these characters must have come from the imagination of artist Stanley Borack, because in terms of their physical characteristics, they don't exist in the narrative at all. The book was originally published in 1945, with this Perma paperback edition appearing in 1955. The story involves four idealistic expatriates living on the small fictional Italian island of Campagna during World War II. Their only intention is escapism in a place of beauty and peace. Then the Nazis show up. And ruin everything.
This book is brilliant, but it will be problematic for some readers because the villain Captain Muller—and he's a very, very bad guy—is gay. His sexuality is a metaphor. As a German officer his incredibly high opinion of himself has primarily to do with his control over and manipulation of men. While some artists use paint or words, he feels he's a Picasso or Titian using humans—the most difficult medium of all—to produce more concrete effects upon civilization than mere visual art does. And his ultimate expression of oneness with his medium is sexual congress with them. Clark's final postulation is that for many men of war, and particularly fascists, violence is a form of eroticism.
Other elements here are also metaphorical, even the island itself. Though the expats, among them an elderly British professor and a German baron, are of different ages and cultures, they become fast friends. Their island is not perfect. There is want and conflict. But without being indoctrinated into the ways of hate people generally help, or at least tolerate, each other. The island represents the possibility of smooth human coexistence. But Captain Muller's purpose is to exert control through violence and fear. He's immediately interested in and drawn to the four expats, and shrewdly understands that the group's relationship with two locals—a legless veteran of the North Africa front and a beautiful young mother—may be the key to achieving his goals.
While all this is going on an American spy arrives on the island and sets into motion a plot to steal diagrams of the submarine bases the Germans are building. The narrative focuses on the professor's and baron's efforts to remain uninvolved, but also follows how a promisethey've made to get the young mother and her child off the island draws them all, bit by terrible bit, into the war against their will. Transitioning from apathy to activism is a standard theme in literature and film, but Clark manages to navigate this course with rare skill. As it develops, The Dreamers generates squirm inducing intensity, almost akin to psychological horror.
But the book's value is in more than just its bold narrative. As time goes by people's knowledge of history comes not from those who lived through it, but from interpreters of it. When conducted under rigorous standards, re-examinations of history are useful and even necessary, but many of this group are not rigorous, and have shady political motives. In the U.S. this manifests as fanciful spins on slavery, the Civil War, and other periods. Many American schoolchildren are now being taught that fascism is the exact opposite of what it was in reality. The Dreamers, written during the fascist era, is clear about what fascism is, how it works, what it seeks to accomplish, and what end of the political spectrum it comes from. Every novel we've read from this period is consistent on these points.
Thus in addition to being a very good book, The Dreamers is yet another reminder that: Mussolini was well liked for years in the U.S. because he was perceived to have saved Italy from communists. Regardless of whether Adolf Hitler had any religious beliefs in private life, the German people knew him as a Catholic, he constantly invoked God in his speeches, and the Holocaust was abetted by people who were overwhelmingly religious. Fascism was vehemently sexist, racist, patriotic, and anti-liberal. Fascism distrusted diplomacy, independent knowledge, and a questioning press, replacing them with aggression, indoctrination, and propaganda. And like all governing systems, fascism was ultimately opportunistic, borrowing any political idea that helped consolidate power.
One benefit of maintaining Pulp Intl. is constantly reading books written contemporaneously with historical events and learning how they were perceived by people who lived through them. The Dreamers has extra value because of this. It's homophobic, though Clark's use of a gay villain is intended to coalesce into metaphor. His scathing attitude toward Germans, on the other hand, never does. It seems as if he hates them en masse. His protagonists often muse about German moral shortcomings. These condemnations of an entire people are an obvious case of turnabout is fair play, and one can hardly be surprised considering what the world was learning about Hitler's atrocities. The Dreamers remains an illuminating reading experience.
We decided our immigration procedures weren't cruel enough, so we've made a few changes.
Robert Stanley does his usual expert job on the cover action and Robert Parker—not Robert B. Parker, but a different author who wrote only three novels—provides the narrative for Passport to Peril. The art here depicts the impending torture of a character named Countess Orlovska, and things get pretty uncomfortable for her. They get even worse for the protagonist John Stoddard. He'd merely intended to travel from A to B for personal reasons. Instead he gets tangled up in espionage when he purchases a false passport he assumes bears a made-up identity, but which actually belonged to a missing-presumed-dead spy. The spy's associates soon come calling. Considering the increased focus on immigration in many western nations, we saw this not only as a spy story but also as a saga about a privileged westerner ironically caught in a migratory wringer. Set in Budapest with all the Cold War intrigue the background suggests, this is pretty entertaining stuff from Parker. It originally appeared in 1951, with this Dell edition coming in 1952.
Biggers isn't always better but he tried.
What's an agony column? Basically it's a newspaper feature in which readers writes messages to other readers. For example: “Regular at Main Street Cafe who takes her coffee every weekday morning just before 9:00. Would you be amenable to meeting a certain gentleman who has admired you from afar?” You get the idea. The “agony” in the terminology derives from the fact that people who write in generally are suffering from some sort of heartache or other.
The Agony Column is basically an epistolary mystery, in which a man writes letters to the crush he contacted through a London newspaper's agony column, and details his involvement in a puzzling murder case. It's a very esoteric set-up for a novel, and besides mystery there's a dose cute romance. Nearly the entire book takes the form of the main character's letters, though some sections are conventionally written.
The nature of the novel requires more suspension of disbelief than usual, simply because nobody really writes letters with detailed, multi-character dialogue, but once you get over that hurdle it works pretty well. There are other hurdles. About London's Chinatown the main character writes, “Not only the heathen Chinee so peculiar shuffle through its dim-lit alleys, but the scum of the earth of many colors and of many climes. The Arab and the Hindu, the Malayan and the Jap, black men from the Congo and fair men from Scandinavia.”
Ouch. That brought the cuteness to a screeching halt. But readers should note that Biggers evolved, and would later create the Chinese American detective Charlie Chan partly as a counter to racist portrayals of Asians. The books were popular, but as the decades progressed people soured on them because Chan too is a racial stereotype. It's difficult for authors to write characters—especially outside their own ethnic group—that stand up over time as social mores change. But they keep trying, and should, in our opinion. What would fiction be like if they didn't?
The Agony Column has plenty of positives. Being set on the eve of World War I in a London gripped by tension over the looming global hostilities lends it atmosphere, and the mystery itself contains a few surprises we doubt most readers will foresee. It's also a short tale, which keeps the epistolary gimmick from wearing thin. We think it's worth a read. The Agony Column originally appeared in 1916, with this Avon edition, illegibly signed by the cover artist and unattributed inside, coming in 1943.
The fundamental things apply as time goes by.
Yes, we're back to Casablanca. Above you see a Spanish poster for this award winning war drama, which premiered in Madrid yesterday in 1946. The movie was a smash hit everywhere because, simply put, it dealt with every important theme in the realm of human experience, which is why it's still fundamental viewing. And that would be true even if most of the characters weren't migrants—a type of person that's very prominent in the news these days.
The poster art is signed MCP, the designation applied to work produced by the Barcelona based design company owned by artists Ramón Martí, Josep Clavé, and Hernán Pico. We'll get back to this trio's output a bitlater. Casablanca generated some very nice promos, and MCP's effort is one of the best, in our opinion. We also recommend checking out the Japanese ones here.
Television makes a celebrity of a natural born Kira.
Above is another cover of the Portuguese magazine O Século Ilustrado, this time with a non-Hollywood face. She's Kira Shirk, who gained fame when Europe learned she had been a sniper in the Russian infantry during World War II's Battle of Leningrad. The magazine explains that she's appearing on NBC's Big Surprise, a game show that culminated in a high pressure question worth $100,000 if the contestant answered it correctly. Shirk had pledged to donate part of her winnings to an organization called Crusade for Freedom. Did she win? No idea, but her question was supposed to be about weapons and war, so we're going with yes. Great image, published today in 1955. More here.
Ladies, trust me, there's enough to go around.
We tend to get books in lots, without knowing much about them, and with Gladiator we were thinking bodybuilding titillation, sort of like this book. But no. It's the life story of a superman. The main character, Hugo Danner, can lift a horse, jump forty feet straight up, crush bones, is bulletproof, and a genius. Originally published in 1930, the Danner character preceded the comic book Superman by eight years. Some say Superman was even a deliberate copy, though that remains in dispute.
But unlike Superman, Hugo Danner is earthly, with earthly worries about family, women, and morality, which makes for an affecting tale. His doubts come to the fore in the trenches of World War I, where he crushes enemies' heads to jelly, rampages German strongholds with such ferocity that even after bullets and bayonets rip his clothes from his impervious body he still kills hundreds while naked and drenched in gore. And he comes to realize the utter pointlessness of it all:
His heart ached as he thought of the toil, the effort, the energy and hope and courage that had been spilled over those mucky fields to satisfy the lusts and foolish hates of the demagogues. [snip] The war was only another war that future generations would find romantic to contemplate and dull to study. He was only a species of genius who had missed his mark by a cosmic margin.
Recommended stuff. These paperback editions from Avon appeared in 1949 and 1957, with nice cover art by unknowns. We should mention, though, that the art is deceptive. Hugo is no fuckboy. In fact, the book barely focuses on sex apart from his earliest encounters. Gladiator is an attempt at serious, speculative sci-fi. Know that going in and you'll probably enjoy it.
An afternoon on the South Side.
The above photos show the Regal Cinema in Chicago one afternoon during the spring of 1941 as locals flock to see The Philadelphia Story, starring Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Cary Grant. The shots were made by Farm Security Administration photographer Edwin Rosskam, who had been tasked with documenting life in Chicago's black belt, which is where racist housing practices forced African Americans to live. Most of Rosskam's photos made abundantly clear that the underclass status forced upon blacks by redlining—the utilization of mortgage and insurance practices to hem them into tightly packed areas—led to less than desirable conditions, but many of his shots showed joyous moments and bustling civic life. These images of people decked out for a matinee are examples. They're part of the Office of War Information Collection maintained by the Library of Congress.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1953—The Rosenbergs Are Executed
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted for conspiracy to commit espionage related to passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet spies, are executed at Sing Sing prison, in New York.
1928—Earhart Crosses Atlantic Ocean
American aviator Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly in an aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean, riding as a passenger in a plane piloted by Wilmer Stutz and maintained by Lou Gordon. Earhart would four years later go on to complete a trans-Atlantic flight as a pilot, leaving from Newfoundland and landing in Ireland, accomplishing the feat solo without a co-pilot or mechanic.
1939—Eugen Weidmann Is Guillotined
In France, Eugen Weidmann is guillotined in the city of Versailles outside Saint-Pierre Prison for the crime of murder. He is the last person to be publicly beheaded in France, however executions by guillotine continue away from the public until September 10, 1977, when Hamida Djandoubi becomes the last person to receive the grisly punishment.
1972—Watergate Burglars Caught
In Washington, D.C., five White House operatives are arrested for burglarizing the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel. The botched burglary was an attempt by members of the Republican Party to illegally wiretap the opposition. The resulting scandal ultimately leads to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, and also results in the indictment and conviction of several administration officials.
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