Vintage Pulp Jan 29 2019
A KISS HELLO
Kubrick makes filmgoers and critics eager for more.


Even legends have to start somewhere. Killer's Kiss isn't Stanley Kubrick's first movie, but it's an early effort made with novice actors, not much gear, and a simple script. The story follows a declining boxer played by Jamie Smith whose existence is given new purpose when he becomes the protector of his neighbor, Irene Kane, a taxi dancer who's being tormented by her sleazy boss. The two live on the same floor of a tenement on opposite sides of a lightwell, and can see into each other's apartments. But they don't interact until Smith tries to save Kane from an attack. The emergency breaks the wall of studious anonymity they had maintained, and they quickly decide they want to leave town together and start new lives on a farm. But in film noir planning and execution are always light years apart.

Because Killer's Kiss was made on a shoestring budget it has an indie feel to it, which extends into the areas of acting and sound. Reviews were mixed, and we agree, but nearly all cheapie indies get mixed reviews. Kubrick probably did better than he had any right to, and he ingeniously manages to juxtapose two sides of New York City—the dark, deserted, cobblestone warehouse districts, and the blindingly dazzling Times Square. Killer's Kiss is worth it for those scenes alone. It's also worthwhile to be reminded that the best way to make a movie, in the end, is to gather up some cash from wherever you can get it and simply shoot. If there's talent involved, it will shine through, and people may notice. With this feature, flaws and all, Kubrick made people want more.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 28 2019
36TH CHAMBER
We'd to hate to find out what the other thirty-five are like.


Private Hell 36. It doesn't mean anything, but what a great title. And it comes with two great promo posters. These are probably in the first two chambers of hell to lure you in. Made in 1954, this film noir co-stars and was co-written by Ida Lupino, who plays a woman who is convinced to help the police on a stakeout for a counterfeiter. She'd been passed a fake fifty but the police can't identify the crook unless she sees him and fingers him. As the days pass cop Steven Cochran takes a liking to her, and she to him. Star-crossed love in the noirish night. Lupino wants the finer things in life. Cochran wants to give them to her. When counterfeit bills start blowing on the wind, Cochran and his partner split over stealing the cash. You know where this goes—nowhere good.

Cochran is really good in this. As his decisions hurt those around him and his circumstances constrict his possibilities in the worst way, the performance he gives generates tension and empathy. Lupino does her usual great job, and the support from Dorothy Malone and Howard Duff is perfect, so in the end what you have is a solid film noir tinged with affecting interpersonal drama and working class pathos. In real life we don't feel the least bit bad for dirty cops, but that's the beauty of art—it puts you in other people's shoes and for an hour or two you understand. Private Hell 36 is short and to the point. It asks: If $80,000 landed in your lap would you keep it? In film noir, you better not.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 27 2019
KNOCKOUT ON SOUTH STREET
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.
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Vintage Pulp Jan 26 2019
TURNING UP TROUBLE
Organized crime finally meets its match.


How much does it cost to fight corruption? That's the question The Turning Point asks, and the answer is—everything. Fighting corruption costs relationships, trust, and often lives. It costs reputations, stability, and sometimes public belief in civil institutions, because corruption will destroy everything before being pushed from power—even the structures that made its rise possible in the first place. Edmond O'Brien, William Holden, and Alexis Smith star in this second night offering at the Noir City Film Festival that examines the lives of a prosecutor, his assistant, and a newspaperman, all of whom are drawn into an investigation of organized crime that is far tougher than any of them expected. And they thought they expected the worst.

The investigative body portrayed is presumably modeled after 1950-51's anti-crime Kefauver Committee, aka the United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, which revealed to the general public that a national organized crime syndicate—popularly known as the Mafia—existed. Before the Committee the idea of the Mafia was mocked by many as a conspiracy theory, but the Committee's conclusions led to the creation of the RICO Act, which today is one of the most useful tools in the federal arsenal for combatting organized crime. The investigation in The Turning Point is on a smaller scale, focusing on a single city, but the idea is the same.

The crooks, of course, don't just stand idly by while they're being targeted by the authorities. Their retaliation comes on multiple fronts and pushes O'Brien, who heads the crime committee, to the point of quitting. But we know he won't. What kind of movie would that be? Does he win? In film noir victory is never a foregone conclusion. Tragedy of some sort is almost assured. But if it indeed strikes, who will fall? Therein lies the tension in The Turning Point. With O'Brien, Holden, and Smith in the leads, the movie is in the hands of confident performers, and what could have been mere pro-law enforcement propaganda turns out to be something more nuanced. Is it a top effort? Not quite, but if you watch it you definitely won't be wasting your time. 
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Intl. Notebook Jan 25 2019
COVER OF NIGHT
The Noir City Film Festival comes to spread darkness over the Bay.


Well, it's that time again. We've done numerous write-ups on the Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco, and we're going to look at some of its offerings yet again as the festival gets underway tonight. All this really is for us is a way to focus our efforts and adhere to a film watching schedule. It also makes us screen someone else's picks rather than ours, which means we end up watching films we never would have otherwise.

Why this particular fest, as opposed to one of the many others, for example in Chicago or Seattle? This was the first one we ran across promo art for, so it's really just tradition at this point. We will add though, that living in the Bay convinced us that San Fran is the most noir city in the world, more than L.A., more than New York City, more than Chicago or London.

Of course, scores of film noirs were shot in L.A., and one of us lived there too, for four years, but San Fran feels like film noir. The recurrent fog alone makes it that way. Add in the hilly geography, the cable cars, the surrounding water, the iconic locations, and that lingering Barbary Coast notion that anything can happen at any moment, and you have a modern day film noir theme park. It was better before all the suits and beards moved in, but what can you do? Anyway, for the next week we'll be looking some of the movies playing at
Noir City, and we're starting right now. See below. 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 25 2019
FILED TO A POINT
Stanwyck rips holes in yet another man's life.


The File on Thelma Jordon is another one of those movies in which a man fools around on a perfectly wonderful wife, and in so doing screws up his perfectly satisfactory existence. The fool in question is played by Wendell Corey, who you may recognize as James Stewart's police buddy from Rear Window. Here he's a district prosecutor. His marriage to nice girl Joan Tetzel is problematic for reasons that seem pretty trivial as far as we're concerned, but whatever—it's film noir, and if the script says he's bummed, okay. His wandering gaze soon partakes of veteran bad woman Barbara Stanwyck, and from that point forward he just can't keep his lips to himself. When Stanwyck's frail aunt turns up ventilated, wily Wendell finds himself in a serious pickle, both personally and professionally.

There's not much you can criticize in The File on Thelma Jordon. Stanwyck is a great actress, particularly in moments of high tension or panic, of which there's an abundance. The sequence where she and Corey frantically try to reorganize an incriminating crime scene before anyone else arrives is a tour de force, seven minutes of masterful staging, acting, directing, and cinematography. And that's just the halfway point. The web hasn't even begun to tighten yet. Before long Corey will find himself—as in all the best noirs—in a situation so absurdly awful that there seems to be no possibility of escape. And all because he wasn't happy with his perfectly wonderful wife, and perfectly satisfactory existence. These guys just never learn.

I should be happy with you, my lovely wife, but this is a film noir, so I'm not.

Eyes, nose, lips—yup, everything looks fine. Why do I want to cheat on you so badly?

Hi, I'm Thelma. It's okay to look at me—we'll be making the eight-limbed mattress monster™ soon anyway.

What do you mean you found a gun? What's a gun?

Why, I know nothing at all about the recent thefts of tablecloths from local Italian restaurants. Do you like my new skirt?

Can we go inside now? The center console is bruising my crack.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I've gotten my dick in the wringer but good.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 23 2018
PERMANENT SLEEP
Bogart and Bacall arrive in Italy in Grande style.


Above, a beautiful poster for Il grande sonno, better known as The Big Sleep, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Was Bacall a redhead? Well, she was in Italy. At the top of the poster you see that this played at the Politeama cinema. Rome? Naples? Palermo? Genoa? Cinemas with that name abounded, so we have no way of knowing exactly where the poster was displayed. You'll see the art attributed to Luigi Martinati on various websites, but we don't think so. It doesn't look like his work, and it's actually signed “Nico” near Bacall's right thigh. Martinati did paint a couple of posters for this movie, though, which we may upload later. We've talked about The Big Sleep—as has every other film noir related site on the internet. We don't have any special insights, but if you're curious what we said anyway, check here. After opening in the U.S. in 1946, The Big Sleep arrived in Italy today in 1947, which the poster tells us was martedì—a Tuesday.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 3 2018
THE MARRYING KIND
Do you, Edmund, take this woman to be—and stop me if you've heard this before—your lawful wedded wife?


The title of The Bigamist may seem to give the plot of the film away, but the point of this once-neglected-now-rediscovered drama is not the revelation of bigamy, but rather the details of how a man ends up with two wives. Edmond O'Brien plays a successful traveling salesman married to lovely Joan Fontaine, and their lives in San Francisco seem pretty good, despite all the time O'Brien spends away on sales trips. When they decide to adopt a child the agency's investigation uncovers O'Brien's other wife Ida Lupino in Los Angeles, and an entire domestic existence with her. Oh what a tangled web.

From that point forward The Bigamist is O'Brien's mea culpa to the insurance agent who busted him. This movie pops up a lot on television but not because it's great—because it's in the public domain, and because people are interested in the output of Lupino as a director. Yes, she helmed this one and did so with style, turning what was probably destined to be a forgettable melodrama into a quasi film noir. In the end the movie still isn't great, but it's a lot better than it should be thanks to Lupino. The Bigamist premiered in the U.S. today in 1953.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 2 2018
BLONDE ATTRITION
Being the object of every man's desire will tend to take a toll.


It took us a while to figure it out, but this is a West German poster for Anita Ekberg's drama Screaming Mimi, which we talked about a couple of years ago. Die blonde Venus is a pretty generic re-titling, in our opinion, but we do like this unusual visual approach for the poster. The movie is about a woman suffering from the effects of a traumatic event in her past, who takes on a new identity and suffers the double misfortune of being dominated by her lover and targeted by a killer. It's definitely worth a watch. You can read more about it here. After opening in 1958 it finally premiered in West Germany today in 1960.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 21 2018
CAPER TOWN
Rural heist goes way south.


The Big Caper by Lionel White is a bank robbery thriller written in multi-p.o.v. style, with more than a dozen characters ranging from compassionate to psychopathic all getting to describe the action. It's a good book. The crux of it is that a career bank robber sends his girlfriend and an associate to act as the advance team for the robbery. They go to the Florida town where the bank is located, set up as husband and wife, and spend six months gathering intelligence for the operation—from pacing out bank dimensions and vault location, to befriending local cops, uncovering data on important people and town operations, to renting a big house and hosting other members of the crew as they trickle into town. The boss has told his vanguard that their husband and wife act is just that—an act. Do they pay attention? No. And it's from there that complications begin to arise. The plot is carefully structured and the writing is a cut above the usual genre fare, but the ending is a bit pat. Still, it's basically a winner. Gold Medal published this edition in 1955 with cover art by Barye Phillips, and the book became a 1957 film noir of the same name starring Rory Calhoun and Mary Costa. We may check that out later.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 24
1981—Ronnie Biggs Rescued After Kidnapping
Fugitive thief Ronnie Biggs, a British citizen who was a member of the gang that pulled off the Great Train Robbery, is rescued by police in Barbados after being kidnapped. Biggs had been abducted a week earlier from a bar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by members of a British security firm. Upon release he was returned to Brazil and continued to be a fugitive from British justice.
March 23
2011—Elizabeth Taylor Dies
American actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose career began at age 12 when she starred in National Velvet, and who would eventually be nominated for five Academy Awards as best actress and win for Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, dies of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. During her life she had been hospitalized more than 70 times.
March 22
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals of the Cold War.
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