Greetings, humans—take me to your leading erotic dancing establishment.
This poster for The Astounding She-Monster is beyond a doubt one of the best mid-century sci-fi promos ever. The illustrator Albert Kallis was responsible for numerous top notch works like The Brain Eaters and Terror from the Year 5000, but we think this one is his masterpiece. We'll get back to him a bit later.
As far as the movie goes, the plot is simple: an alien that looks a lot like nude model Shirley Kilpatrick in a zipback jumpsuit lands on Earth and crosses paths with a group of kidnappers, who with their hostage have invaded a geologist's house. Though Kilpatrick is wardrobed like a stripper or go-go dancer, the filmmakers have a serious goal, which is to show how a creature with no knowledge of Earth immediately sees humans at their most basic—in pointless conflict. When the She-Monster is forced to defend herself she does so, like all strippers do, with her lethal radioactive touch.
This effort from American International Pictures is ’50s sci-fi at its worst yet most earnest. The underlying anti-nuclear, anti-violence messages are laudable, but undermined by an $18,000 budget and a four-day shoot rife with terrible execution and unintentional comedy. The stock bear footage alone will have you rolling your eyes, and Marilyn Harvey screaming in panic... ...and bolting out of the geologist's house is such a funny sight we had to re-watch it over and over. We're talking fall-on-the-floor hilarious. Even so, when is the last time you saw an anti nuclear movie? All these cheesy peacenik flicks from the ’50s and ’60s cared, which makes them—in that way at least—far superior to most of the cynical films being produced today. The Astounding She-Monster premiered this month in 1957.
I call this the dreaded claw.
Oh yeah? I call this the dreaded fist!
Does anyone want a lap dance?
Oh my freaking God! Let's get the fuck out of here!
Kilpatrick, during calmer times, catches some rays and practices making creepy space hands.
As long as you're already feeling terrible I might as well tell you he landed on your cat.
For such clever animals cats do get underfoot at inconvenient times, don't they? But fret not—no felines are flattened in Day Keene's Wake Up To Murder. There's barely any character development at all, let alone time for extraneous animals. What happens here is the protagonist James Charters decides to save a woman from death row. Sound familiar? That's because it's the same set-up Keene used for Death House Doll. Plotwise the books diverge from there, as Charters gets blamed for a couple of murders and has some mobsters chasing after him for $10,000 they think he has. Put this in the Florida thriller bin, copyright 1952.
Welch rocks and rolls on the derby circuit.
Above is a Japanese poster for the U.S. drama Kansas City Bomber, which starred Raquel Welch, and featured Cornelia Sharpe and a very young Jodie Foster. We won't mince words—this is a bad movie, inspired by the roller derby craze of the 1970s, which back then was simply cheeseball pro wrestling on wheels. As weak as the film is, this role actually fits Welch. After scoring big early with Fantastic Voyage and One Million B.C. it seems as if she spent the rest of her career looking for the right part. This one works. Like her, the skater character she plays is a mother of two trying to make good in a world determined to see her only as an ornament. Welch plays her as warm hearted, a bit emotionally exhausted, but resilient at the core. Yet in the end Kansas City Bomber is still a movie about roller derby, which was lowbrow fakery put over on a gullible public as real. If the script had admitted the sport was staged there might have been room for a good satire, but that didn't happen, and with a fake sport as its subject, generating genuine emotion is difficult. Hey, but it still has Raquel. After premiering in the U.S. in August 1972 Kansas City Bomber opened in Japan today the same year.
Yeah, wow, nice. I've never seen one without hair. It's slick as a— Wait, did you say you tore it out with hot wax?
Above, the cover of Orgy Man by Dean Hudson, a Greenleaf Classics house pseudonym used in this case by veteran sleaze author Evan Hunter, writing for Greenleaf's Idle Hours imprint, with cover art by Robert Bonfils, copyright 1964. Hah. We did that all in one sentence.
Then you die. And she's happy about it.
To quote Queen Latifah: “Who you callin' a bitch?” In this 1958 thriller trusty old Gil Brewer concocts a tale in which violent events are unleashed when a detective is hired to shadow a cheating wife. He learns there's two-hundred grand in a safe and stages a robbery, which of course goes spectacularly wrong, and leads to him being identified as the thief. He's suddenly on the run and everyone he knows is chasing after his big bag of money. Treachery abounds. There are actually two wives in this story. Which one is the bitch of the title? Well, from the narrator's point of view, probably both. But his troubles are his own fault. The book is fun, but there's a curiously aimless quality to this particular effort from Brewer. He's done better. The cover art, on the other hand, is about the best you'll see, though it's uncredited. Now we'll let Queen have the last word:
One day I was walking down the block.
I had my cutoff shorts on, right, ’cause it was crazy hot.
I walked past these dudes.
When they passed me one of 'em felt my booty.
He was nasty.
I turned around red.
Somebody was catching the wrath.
Then the little one said, “Yeah me, bitch,” and laughed.
Since he was with his boys he tried to break fly.
I punched him dead in his eye,
and said, “Who you callin' a bitch?”
He's been eaten down to the bones. I don't know about you but this is by far the worst case of frostbite I've ever seen.
We imagine Boston born author James Holden sitting around one bitterly cold night, probably just a little tipsy from drinking warm brandy, staring out at a December snowstorm, thinking to himself that if anyone's out there in such terrible weather they're risking frostbite. And then his eyes grow wide and he says aloud, “What if the frost... takes more... than just a bite? Yes! Writer's block cured!” And some months later he finishes Snow Fury, in which the snow eats people entirely. Yep. How could snow eat people? Might have something to do with a scientific experiment run amok. And just to push the entire concept to full fruition Holden named the main character David Storm. Well, at least the cover is brilliant, and for that you can thank James Meese. This Perma edition is from 1956 and the book originally appeared in hardback in 1955.
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.
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.
L.A. stands for Lew Archer in John MacDonald's tinseltown thriller.
We love this cover art by Harvey Kidder for John MacDonald's, aka Ross MacDonald's first Lew Archer novel The Moving Target. The way the figures are placed at such a remove from the viewer and the text is stretched across the underside of the pier is strikingly different. The book was originally published in 1949 with this Pocket Books paperback coming in 1950, and it stars MacDonald's franchise detective trying to locate a philandering millionaire who's gone missing. The man's wife is more concerned about the possibility of her spouse being on a bender and sharing the family money than she is about foul play, but Archer soon decides that the situation is a kidnapping.
We'd been meaning to read MacDonald for a while. We'd heard that his prose has a Dashiell Hammett vibe and that certainly turned out to be true. Set in and around Los Angeles, it weaves summer heat, wacky mysticism, outsize ambition, and broken dreams together into a tale with great Southern California flavor. And Archer is appropriately road worn: “I believed that evil was a quality some people were born with, like a harelip. But it isn't that simple. Everybody has it in him, and whether it comes out in his actions depends on a number of things. Environment, opportunity, economic pressure, a piece of bad luck, a wrong friend.”
In this world that he's accepted as more complex than he'd like it to be, he navigates using a solid personal code and a very hard skull—both severely tested multiple times. We gather the story is considered unremarkable compared to later Archer novels, but for us it was entirely satisfactory. It satisfied Hollywood too, which made it into a star vehicle for Paul Newman called Harper. Why the name of the detective was changed we can't even begin to guess, but we saw the movie a couple of years ago and it was enjoyable. Below you see a 1959 Pocket Books edition of The Moving Target with Jerry Allison art. More from MacDonald later.
Then she smashed my head repeatedly into the turnbuckle until the ref stopped the match. So... how was your day?
Nice cover for Ben West's Loves of a Girl Wrestler, from Beacon Books, with art by Al Rossi. We won't bother to summarize this one because we've also uploaded the interesting rear cover, just below, and it has a full rundown. Originally 1952 copyright, with this edition appearing in 1960.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1968—Tallulah Bankhead Dies
American actress, talk show host, and party girl
Tallulah Bankhead, who was fond of turning cartwheels in a dress without underwear and once made an entrance to a party without a stitch of clothing on, dies in St. Luke's Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia complicated by emphysema.
1962—Canada Has Last Execution
The last executions in Canada occur when Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin, both of whom are Americans who had been extradited north after committing separate murders in Canada, are hanged at Don Jail in Toronto. When Turpin is told that he and Lucas will probably be the last people hanged in Canada, he replies, “Some consolation.”
1964—Guevara Speaks at U.N.
Ernesto "Che" Guevara, representing the nation of Cuba, speaks at the 19th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York City. His speech calls for wholesale changes in policies between rich nations and poor ones, as well as five demands of the United States, none of which are met.
2008—Legendary Pin-Up Bettie Page Dies
After suffering a heart attack several days before, erotic model Bettie Page, who in the 1950s became known as the Queen of Pin-ups, dies when she is removed from life support machinery. Thanks to the unique style she displayed in thousands of photos
and film loops, Page is considered one of the most influential beauties who ever lived.
1935—Downtown Athletic Club Awards First Trophy
The Downtown Athletic Club in New York City awards its first trophy for athletic achievement to University of Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger. The prize is later renamed the Heisman Trophy, and becomes the most prestigious award in college athletics.
1968—Japan's Biggest Heist Occurs
300 million yen is stolen from four employees of the Nihon Shintaku Ginko bank in Tokyo when a man dressed as a police officer blocks traffic due to a bomb threat, makes them exit their bank car while he checks it for a bomb, and then drives away in it. Under Japanese statute of limitations laws, the thief could come forward today with no repercussions, but nobody has ever taken credit for the crime.
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