|Vintage Pulp||Jul 25 2015|
The Smell of Murder has nothing to do with bodily fluids, but when we see yellow liquid in a test tube that’s where our minds go. Especially after a couple of nights in Magaluf, hereafter referred to as Malagoof, where the streets run with liquid gold. The rest of Mallorca, however, was very nice. The Smell of Murder is a mystery with a gangland focus and a secondary character who works for a perfume company—hence the test tubes. That character, interestingly, is named Grace Allen and is based upon the famous comedienne. Her Vaudeville partner George Burns appears too—he’s the owner of the perfume company. 1938 publication date, plenty of reviews online, unknown cover artist.
|Modern Pulp||Apr 11 2015|
|Vintage Pulp||Mar 31 2015|
Murders in the Zoo is a brisk little sixty-two-minute thriller for which you see two excellent promos above. A dealer in large animals uses the menagerie he’s recently procured in Asia to dispose of his wife’s suitors. The cast is good, especially Kathleen Burke as the straying spouse. You’ll notice she’s called The Panther Woman on the posters. That’s a reference to her role as a woman bred from a panther in the previous year’s hit thriller Island of Lost Souls, and here she retains a hint of animal cunning that makes her the most watchable cast member. Other aspects of the film are less watchable. Zoos are sad affairs even today, but during the 1930s they were tawdry places rife with choke collars and tiny cages. Watching Murders in the Zoo explains why today’s productions have the American Humane Association on set defending the animals’ wellbeing.
Late in the proceedings, the villain tries to facilitate his escape from justice by (spoiler alert) releasing all the big cats from their cages, triggering a feline free-for-all of slashing claws and gnashing fangs. This is no special effect, folks. The sequence is brief and uses footage from two angles to extend the running time, but still, injuries surely resulted. At the least, the leopard that was held down and gnawed on by a lion probably had PTSD until the end of its days. Sometimes we point out scenes in vintage cinema that fall into the could-not-be-filmed-today category, and usually those exemplify the visionary artistry of the past. What is mostly exemplified by Murders in the Zoo’s cat scrum is the cruelty of the human species. But from a purely cinematic perspective it’s a powerful scene, and indeed, the entire zoo setting heightens the overarching dread. As 1930s movies go, Murders in the Zoo is an excellent one. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1933.
|The Naked City||Mar 24 2015|
Above and below is a fascinating series of photos from the Los Angeles Examiner during the heyday of tabloids, showing just how invasive such publications could be. The photo above shows the aftermath of a murder-suicide at the Ansonia Apartments in L.A.’s MacArthur Park neighborhood. A mother jumped from a window with her six-year-old son. The photos below show the scene from different angles, then a priest administering last rites to the boy, and finally the father grieving over his son’s body. The Examiner focused on crime, corruption, and Hollywood scandals, and was for a time the most widely circulated newspaper in Los Angeles. Possibly its most famous scoop was breaking the story of the 1947 mutilation murder of Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia.
In the references we dug up on the Clouart tragedy the wife’s name is never given—she’s called only Mrs. Gerald Clouart. That was of course common practice at the time, but it’s ironic the way it renders invisible a woman who might have received help had anyone truly discerned her troubles. But in yet another example of the Examiner’s extraordinary access, one of its photos is of Mrs. Clouart’s suicide note, and we were able to get her name from that. The note said: “I’ve reached the point of no return. It’s not your fault. You’ve been a wonderful husband and father. Am taking [John] with me to spare him the disgrace. I’m just inadequate.” It was signed Terry. That was today in 1952.
|The Naked City||Feb 13 2015|
When Mrs. Young came to retrieve her daughter, she found the church empty. She called the Scout leader and was told Janet never attended the meeting. This prompted a frantic call to the police, who quickly found the girl’s charred body. They arrested Ebbs at home hours later. The crime, once it hit the news, aroused a furious reaction in the community. Two civilian participants in a police line-up with Ebbs punched, kicked and spat on him. Though the police of course denied this assault ever happened, they put together an armed detachment of thirty-five men to forestall trouble at Ebbs’ arraignment. At his trial, which lasted eight days, four psychiatrists testified that he was legally insane, but four others pronounced him sane. He was convicted of first degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison. Ebb’s only reaction, at least according to accounts of the time, came when he saw the camera crews gathered to film him. He wondered aloud, “What will they think of me?”
|Vintage Pulp||Jan 28 2015|
As long as we’re doing Spanish language pulp today, we might as well share this cover for El siniestro Doctor Crippen, or The Sinister Doctor Crippen, written by Enrique Cuenca for Barcelona based Ediciones G.P., and published in 1960 as part of its low cost Enciclopedia Pulga collection. Eventually, about five-hundred books appeared as part of the collection, including translations of Jules Verne, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and other classic authors. This particular novel is of course based on the strange story of Hawley Harvey Crippen, aka H.H. Crippen, the American physician and fugitive who murdered his wife Cora in 1910 and was eventually hanged in London’s HM Pentonville Prison. Many of the covers we’ve seen from Enciclopedia Pulga are nice, so we’ll try to revisit the collection a little bit later.
|The Naked City||Jan 20 2015|
This photo made today in 1959 shows a woman named Jessie Mae Noah, who Los Angeles police had arrested and were questioning in connection to a crime that had occurred seven weeks earlier. On that December night a Samuel Goldwyn Studios suit named Kenneth Savoy walked into the In Between Café on Melrose Avenue during the time two men—one holding a sawed-off shotgun—were in the process of robbing it. Having collected the money and valuables of eight patrons and the contents of the cash register, they demanded Savoy’s wallet, and perhaps having watched too many of his own movies, he replied that if they wanted it they’d have to shoot him. That hard-boiled response earned him a load of buckshot in the stomach. The robbers scampered to their getaway car—where Jessie Mae Noah was waiting in the rear seat—and fled the scene.
After police published composite sketches of the robbers in the newspapers, Noah contacted police, resulting in the photo op above. The robbers—George Scott and Curtis Lichtenwalter—were arrested later (for those who wonder whether composite sketches ever work, check the comparison between Scott and his likeness at bottom).
Scott had fled all the way to Texarkana, Arkansas, and gave up only after a shoot-out with police at a motel. Jessie Mae Noah claimed she’d had no idea her two acquaintances were planning a robbery, and that she had simply gone for a ride with them for kicks. She avoided a murder charge, but Scott and Lichenwalter were both found guilty of robbery and first degree homicide. Scott—the triggerman—was gassed to death by the state of California in September 1960. And as for the victim Kenneth Savoy, you have to wonder what he thought in that instant when the shotgun went off. We suspect he thought that maybe calling bluffs was something best left to the stars of action films.
|Vintage Pulp||Jan 15 2015|
|The Naked City||Jan 12 2015|
Although Green was probably never aware of it, legal authorities often cited his case during the long battle over the constitutionality of the death penalty in California. The idea put forth by the pro-death penalty side around 1960 was that even though Green’s commuted sentence specified “without possibility of parole,” there was no actual reason in California jurisprudence or the state constitution that he could not be released. All that was required was for an appropriate state authority to decide to do it. They felt therefore that anti-death penalty campaigners’ assurances that criminals could be imprisoned for life if such punishment was deemed necessary meant nothing. No matter the language of the original life sentence, any criminal could later be released. Green doubtless would have found all this fascinating, but none of it ever came to affect him. As far as we can tell, he did in fact spend the rest of his life in San Quentin.
|The Naked City||Dec 12 2014|
We would love if this issue of Uncensored Detective published this month in 1946 had a story relating to the desperate clown on the cover, but no such luck. You can read the text of the issue at this link, but we’ll summarize for those short of time—you learn about cheating spouses, a killer cop, and a millionaire con artist, but no clowns. The stories are all interesting (as are the photos and photo-illustrations posed by models that probably barely earned meal money for the week), but the tale of double homicide on Lowry Air Force Base in Denver is the one that caught our interest. The details of the murders are not in any way fantastic, but because the parties of interest are all Chinese cadets Uncensored Detective gets to drop lines like this one: The workings of the Oriental mind are strange indeed. And this one: What secret mechanism in the Oriental mind caused a normal Chinese student to go berserk and commit murders for pride? Oh, those inscrutable Chinese. The story is a classic case of framing the banal as somehow alien when it involves other ethnic groups, and it’s a lazy, vicious form of journalism you see often in both old magazines and modern cable news. The mechanism of murder in the Denver crime was indeed pride, and that’s not so secret or strange. The other murders in the magazine were committed for jealousy, money, and lust, and there’s nothing secret or strange about those either. What would be strange is clowns. But there isn’t a single damned one in the magazine.