Vintage Pulp Feb 7 2018
Nikkatsu pushes the envelope of taste—and social responsibility—with Okasu!

Above, a poster for the roman porno flick Okasu!, which premiered in Japan today in 1976. The title here, in a rare occurrence and complete contrast to the above film, translates directly—Rape! Considering that hundreds of roman porno (short for “romantic porno”) movies were made by Nikkatsu Studios during the ’70s and ’80s we take them seriously and seek to understand them. So we watched this and... we don't understand. Starring Natsuko Yashiro, who you may remember from her female diver movies, and co-starring Naomi Tani and Yuri Yamashina, Okasu! is the story of a rape victim who develops an obsession for her attacker and searches the city for him, constantly exposing herself to similar dangers.
To be clear, we make no cultural judgments here—around the same time in the U.S. on the soap opera General Hospital, Luke raped Laura and became the number one hunk on daytime television. So we're not failing to understand Okasu! from a cultural vantage point, but from a generational vantage point. We don't find non-consensual anything sexy. From our perspective this dubious flick has only two plusses: there's a highly ironic, even grimly comical, ending; and Yashiro masturbates with a walnut, which we never knew was possible. Wanna try it? Follow her lead below. But when you're making your way through vintage Japanese movies give this one a pass.


Vintage Pulp Feb 5 2018
We suspect what was outlawed was Howard Hughes' directorial career.

The Outlaw is reputed to be a terrible movie. Since it premiered today in 1943 we thought we'd give it a glance, and guess what? It's terrible. Howard Hughes directed it when he still fancied himself a man with artistic talent, and the main takeaway is that the Dunning-Kruger Effect is more than just a theory. His adoration of Jane Russell radiates from each of her scenes, but in overall execution the movie flops in every area except infuriating the era's movie censors. It's accidentally funny, though.

Billy the Kid: “Doc, if you're not already fixed up you can bunk with me tonight.”

Doc Holliday: “No thanks, Billy. I've got a girl. She and her aunt just moved in town. You got a girl, Billy?”

Billy the Kid: “Naw. I ain't got nothin'. Except that horse.”

On the other hand, the film is also terribly unfunny. Wikipedia says it's implied that Billy rapes Jane Russell's character Rio McDonald in a barn. We're here to tell you it may be implied visually and in the dialogue that drifts out of those obscuring shadows, but as a matter of plot it's a dead certainty that's what happens. And she's his friend's lady, the one discussed in the above dialogue exchange. Billy is just a bad guy. But you know exactly what happens next, right? Rio falls in love with Billy. But he remains a dick:

Rio McDonald: “What are you waiting for? Go ahead.”

Billy the Kid: “Say that sounds real nice. I like to hear you ask for it. Beg some more.”

Rio McDonald: “What would you like me to say?”

Billy the Kid: “Well you might say please very sweetly.”

Rio McDonald: “Please.”

Billy the Kid: “Will you keep your eyes open?”

Rio McDonald: “Yes.”

Billy the Kid: “Will you look right at me while I do it?”

The music alone during that scene could drive you from the room. And what does Billy do to Rio after he's had his way with her yet again? Ties her by her wrists and ankles and leaves her in the hot sun to roast to death. Holliday rescues her and opines that Billy must really be in love with her to do something so cruel. Um... okay. This is another great exchange:

Billy the Kid: “I think I'd rather have that cuckoo clock do the counting for me.”

Doc Holliday: “Yeah that's good enough. It's gonna strike in a minute.”

Billy the Kid: “Shall we pull on the last cuckoo?
We're pretty sure Hughes was pulling on his cuckoo when he made this, but luckily he never directed again. Amazingly, even though the film is awful, everything associated with it is collectible, including the promo poster above, which if you wanted to buy would cost you $56,000. Not the original painting. An original print. At least that's what one ambitious soul is asking for it. We suspect the separation between the quality of The Outlaw and the cost of its memorabilia is the largest of any film in American history. Watch it if you dare.


Vintage Pulp Feb 1 2018
The world of professional ballet is absolute murder.

Suspiria is a legendary giallo, praised by horror fans and mainstream critics alike, and slated for a splashy 2018 remake. The fact that it's being remade is understandable—from Hollywood's perspective it fits with action and horror movies such as Turistas, Hostel, A Lonely Place To Die, Land of Smiles, Taken, et al that over the last decade or so have warned Americans that horrific things will happen to them if they travel overseas. In Suspiria an American dancer gains admittance to a prestigious West German ballet academy, but arrives just in time for a nightmarish series of murders. Jessica Harper stars as the ingenue trapped in this mostly blood red dance academy, a stranger in the strangest land, beset by unexplained illnesses, hallucinatory events, and vicious nocturnal terrors.

Suspiria piles the horror stylings on—from Dario Argento and his surreal direction, to Luciano Tovoli with his baroque lighting schemes and supersaturated colors, to the maggot wrangler who produced many more maggots than could have been reasonably expected, to the scorers (Argento among them) who came up with a percussive and discordant soundtrack that could rattle a bomb disposal robot. The first murder is nothing short of operatic, complete with a shot of a knife piercing the victim's exposed heart. The only real question going forward is whether Argento can possibly keep reaching such heights. And the answer is Suspiria, its brilliance outshining its flaws, is a classic for a reason. The poster above is a classic too. It was painted by Mario de Berardinis to promote the film's premiere in Italy today in 1977.


Vintage Pulp Feb 1 2018
If you want something done right do it yourself.

Years ago we shared a poster for I Walk Alone but hadn't seen the film. Since it's on the Noir City Film Festival schedule this year we thought we'd have a look, and what we watched was a story about Burt Lancaster being released from fourteen years in prison and immediately looking up his old partner who owes him a 50% share of profits from the bar they owned together. The partner is Kirk Douglas, at his slimy best, having expanded the bar into a glitzy supper club he has no intention of sharing. But since Lancaster got tossed into jail in the first place by protecting Douglas he's not going to just walk away empty handed. Once it becomes clear he has no legal claim to the club he puts together a crew to muscle in, but the strong arm method doesn't work out quite how he plans, and the stakes between the former partners go higher and higher. Lancaster, Douglas, Scott—there's really no way to fail. I Walk Alone has some problems in the area of character motivation—i.e. why would you do that?—but it's well acted and ultimately is an enjoyable film noir entry.


Vintage Pulp Jan 30 2018
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. 


Vintage Pulp Jan 27 2018
Counterfeiters and Nazi agents clash in wartime Los Angeles.

When we saw Quiet Please: Murder on the Noir City slate and realized we'd never heard of it we decided to watch it and were treated to an interesting flick about sellers of literary forgeries who get in over their heads when they cheat the representatives of Nazis. Apparently, Hermann Göring is accumulating items he expects to maintain value in the event of post-war inflation, and a rare quarto of Hamlet fits the bill. George Sanders and Gail Patrick are the crooked vendors who run afoul of the Nazis, as well as the cop hero played by Richard Denning. The movie is remembered for its central scene involving an air raid drill that plunges heroes and villains into a blackout at a crucial moment, but the primary benefit here is watching Sanders, who was Russian born but learned a clenched-jaw upper class English accent that made his voice unique in film. He's a perfect baddie here, shooting a librarian to acquire the original Hamlet, pimp slapping his partner Patrick, and in general being shady as fuck. Thanks to him Quiet Please: Murder is an entertaining little b-noir.


Modern Pulp Jan 22 2018
Need a little help around the house?

Above is a poster for Dorei keiyakushu, yet another entry in Nikkatsu's roman porno pantheon, and one that gets viewers to the usual place by a slightly different route. The film opens with Nami Matsukawa having her pubic hair shaved off by a man. She isn't too thrilled about it. Then he gives her an enema, and it's us who aren't too thrilled. Then he binds her in rope kinbaku-bi style, basically wrapping her like a gift, carefully places her in a crate with some packing material, closes it up and has some delivery guys take the container away. The parcel ends up in the house of Hidekazu Mikami, who's surprised as hell when he opens it, as is his wife, played by Izumi Shima. Imagine explaining that. A sheaf of legal documents around Nami's neck says that she's a slave and will serve as payment of a debt. And just like that it's straight to the kinky sex and domination. You can always count on Nikkatsu—they never fail to get you to bondage land, if indeed that's where you want to go. Us, we can take or leave it. Even though we have many more roman porno posters we'd like to share, we may shift more toward Toei's pinky violence action movies for a while. They're harder to find, but worth the effort—and we can only watch so many enemas. Dorei keiyakushu premiered in Japan today in 1982.

It says she'll do anything you ask. Laundry, dishes, handjobs, whatever.

Baby, I swear I didn't order a slave.

But as long as we have one...


Vintage Pulp Jan 19 2018
It isn't easy for a bad woman to go straight.

We think Shockproof has one of the best film noir titles of all time. It just sounds like a killer flick. But is it? Patricia Knight stars as paroled murderer who can't quit her past associations, despite the fact that her parole officer Cornel Wilde is prepared to throw her back in prison for life if she violates her terms. But she thinks she's smarter than the system, and so does her shady boyfriend, so they keep sneaking around Los Angeles to meet each other. Meanwhile Wilde is convinced Knight is redeemable, and in his efforts to steer her straight ends up bringing her deeper into his own circle, and into his personal life. The only way he can keep her away from her bad boyfriend is to be with her as much as possible, so soon the two are living in the same big house along with Wilde's mother and little brother. But the old boyfriend is still sliming around and plans to use Wilde's affections for Knight against him. We wouldn't say the movie is quite as good as its title—it isn't down and dirty enough for that—but it's a solid film noir entry, and we recommend it. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.


Vintage Pulp Jan 11 2018
Bankhead and Co. try to deal with an ocean of differences.

The best thing about Lifeboat is Tallulah Bankhead. Simple as that. Top billed, tasked with bringing a complex character to life, and working in a film with huge expectations because it was written by literary laureate John Steinbeck and helmed by internationally renowned director Alfred Hitchcock, she delivers the goods. If you haven't seen it, it's an adventure and character study about a group of cruise ship passengers who survive a German u-boat attack and find themselves adrift on the Atlantic Ocean. There's a tinge of war propaganda to it, a touch of we're-humans-and-the-other-side-aren't, but when you consider that Germany was a genocidal regime, and news reports had been touching on this fact for two years (though visual evidence wouldn't appear until after May 1945) Lifeboat is remarkably subtle in that regard.

Anyway, if you ever want to see a star go full nova, check this film out—Bankhead is funny, bitter, sly, ironic, desperate, and more, helped along by reliable old William Bendix, as well as Hume Cronyn, Mary Anderson, and Walter Slezak in a pivotal role. And I guess we don't have to tell you one of Hitchcock's most famous stories came from this movie, the one about his camera accidentally getting upskirt shots of a pantyless Bankhead, and the question of whether the problem was one for hair, make-up, or wardrobe.

The poster above is a really nice piece of mid-century promo art and we spent a lot of computer time trying to discover who painted it, but to no avail. That wasn't a surprise, though. It's a painted version of the photo-illustration used on the panel length promo you see below, which means it's basically a copy job that numerous artists could have executed. But it's still nice compositionally, with its beautiful blue coloration, bright yellow title, and diagonal arrangement of faces. Lifeboat premiered in the U.S. today in 1944.


Modern Pulp Jan 7 2018
When we get together we do the usual stuff—chat, drink wine, endure whippings, have a forced enema or two.

We don't share pinku and roman porno posters just because we're interested in the films. We also share them because, first, the art is always great, and second, it's easy to get. Its availability is a reflection of how many productions of the type were made—in a word, many hundreds. That's two words. Let's go with thousands—which is not an exaggeration. These were incredibly popular films is the point, made by multiple studios trying to place double features into vertically integrated, wholly dependent cinemas every weekend. Many of the movies have fallen prey to the ravages of time, which occasionally leads to us sharing art from movies that no longer exist, but today's offering, Nawa to chibusa, aka Rope and Breasts, starring Nami Matsukawa and Izumi Shima, is one we did in fact find and watch.

The movie premiered in Japan today in 1983, and it involves a couple running a traveling bdsm show who arrive in Kyoto and are hired for a private performance that turns into something more. The woman is planning to retire, but now learns what bondage and discipline really are as she and her man are teased and tortured to within an inch of their sanity. When all is said and done the woman forgets retirement, not because she loves torture, but because she realizes her life is hell anyway and if she has to live in hell she'd like to at least make money from it. Very upbeat stuff. An interesting aspect of the copy we saw is its use of pixelation to obscure the private parts of the actors (see below). Since roman pornos are softcore the masking is purely directorial flourish, designed, we suppose, to give the action a veneer of the forbidden.

For those who've missed our previous discussions about the roman porno genre, the filmmakers generally contend that the sexual abuse depicted is symbolic of patriarchal Japan's subjugation to occupying Americans, or to modern life, or to a burgeoning counterculture, etc. As a smart man once said, when something is symbolic of everything, it's symbolic of nothing. In other words, we don't buy the boilerplate on roman porno, at least not fully. We think it was primarily money driven, and the more intellectual aspects were secondary, distantly. But the main thing we try to remember as outsiders looking in is that cultural judgement is a slippery slope, and while in this particular 2018 moment of discussion about the all too prevalent dangers men present to women, it's easy to dismiss roman porno films as masculine horror fantasies sprung from the brows of unrepentant misogynists.

But times change, and there are layers to the issue that make such assessments a bit too facile. It's possible to be on one side of a cultural issue during a certain moment in time, but be judged as on the exact opposite side a generation or two later. Today's observers could easily conclude that roman porno filmmakers were conservative nationalists, but in reality they were mainly liberal feminist allies satirizing conservative patriarchs/patriots. Their sexualization of women was spurred in part by box office need, but they believed in their own symbolism and there's no doubt most of them thought of themselves as modernist trailblazers smashing social barriers. The path their output has taken through the decades is parallel to that of Hugh Hefner, hailed as women's rights hero in 1967, reviled as a cog in a destructive porno machine half a century later. Times change.

If Japanese viewers of 1980s American horror movies had demanded to know why so many productions featured people being lured into the woods to be slaughtered it would have led to some uncomfortable conversations about apocalyptic American attitudes toward sex, as well as the eternal American worship of violence. These discussions would have been much more needed than any concerning 1970s Japanese mores. But as for modern observers, they get to judge earlier filmmakers only up to a point. They weren't there. They forget that work incommercial media has its demands, if the work is to be secured at all. Old targets are no longer fully relevant, as well as being way too easy to criticize in hindsight. Subversive messages are often slipped into popular art and those messages matter. They wink at us. They say, “You and I both know this is just entertainment, but this other thing—if you are detecting it—is what we're really about here.” But modern viewers of old films often miss these important messages. As culture changes receptivity to these small signals change too.

So, okay, Nawa to chibusa is a weird movie. It's a weird movie hailing from a weird genre. The genre was meant to both make money and provoke people, and all these years later the films remain as artifacts of an industry embarked upon a radical social discussion, spearheaded by filmmakers who hadn't yet realized that images also carry weight apart from their alleged political intent. In other words, the question becomes whether the same goals could have been achieved by other means—i.e. other means of provocation, other types of imagery. We can't answer that. We weren't there. We don't know of anyone who has tallied the social gains and losses, if any, brought about by all this shocking cinema. All we have is an inadequate twenty-first century perspective, an inadequate Western perspective, an incomplete male perspective, and a whole lot of crazy posters.


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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
March 21
1963—Alcatraz Closes
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
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