There's only one sure way to get rid of a headache. Murder him.
Hangover House was originally conceived as a stage play and was written by Sax Rohmer, aka Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, and his wife, Elizabeth Sax Rohmer, who obviously borrowed his pseudonym. We haven't read the play, but the novel is one of those fun British murder mysteries where everyone is stuck in a mansion as cops try to solve the crime. But the police are secondary. The main guy here is private investigator Storm Kennedy, also stranded in Hangover House after being hired to keep an eye on one of the guests, the young and beautiful Lady Hilary Bruton. In his efforts to protect Lady Hilary, Kennedy becomes the prime murder suspect. By 1949, when this was originally written, guys like Cain and Hammett had taken crime fiction to violent, depraved places, so Hangover House may seem to some readers both overly genteel and too romantic—“Oh, Storm, will you save me from myself!”—but we liked it anyway. The surprise ending actually did surprise us. This Graphic Books paperback appeared in 1954, and the cover artist is uncredited.
Ahoy there, miss! Do you mind if we pull abreast?
Above, a poster for the Hitomi Kozue roman porno flick Nikutai hanzai kaigan: Piranha no mure, aka Sex-Crime Coast: School of Piranha. In this one Kozue rises out of the sea like Aphrodite, which is how we always suspected she came to be. Well, okay, she isn't actually a deity. Instead she plays an all-too-mortal gangster girl who falls for a gangster boy in the seaside region of Shōnan, along Sagami Bay. But romance is never easy in these films, and a love triangle soon brings jealousy and violence to the idyllic sands of central Japan. It's Nikkatsu Studios, and it's roman porno, so you know exactly what you'll get here. It premiered in Japan today in 1973.
Shoot first, pray later.
You know how you read a book or watch a movie and the lead character has a total failure of imagination? He kills a guy then goes home to pack rather than just hopping the next freight westward. Or he steals a million dollars and hangs around spending big in New York City rather than beating it for Santorini. A crucial section of Elliot Chaze's 1953 thriller Black Wings Has My Angel hinges on just that sort of boneheadedness, but it in no way ruins the book because it's simply too well constructed and written to be ruined by anything. Here's a passage we liked:
“Pretty soon a matronly brunette in a brocaded man's dressing gown came skating out of a door and she and Virginia were hugging and kissing. It was good old Mamie. And Virginia I'll be damned. And isn't this a hell of a note. And Lord how I've wanted to see you. And when they were finished with the italics Mamie was shaking hands with me and shaking up some drinks we didn't need.”
That's a bit beat, isn't it? A bit Kerouac? Which is not to say Chaze is a literary giant in pulp clothing, but it's still a cool little passage, and we'd say he possesses better technical chops than most of his peers. The only thing that mars the book—besides what we mentioned at top—is an ending that, in the interests of irony and symbolism, pushes the bounds of likelihood. But still, this was an excellent tale well told about a man who meets a dark and dangerous woman who becomes central to his plans to execute a spectacular robbery, then becomes central to his heart.
Enough! We'll tell you anything you want to hear! Just please make it stop!
Matchless premiered in Italy in 1967, but it was originally released under the title Sin rival. When and why it also played in Italy as Matchless—as indicated by this Italian and English promo poster—is a mystery. It later played in the U.S. as Matchless but with different poster art. Of all the promos, this one is the nicest, we think. The movie is a bizarre spy flick spoof about a journalist (Patrick O'Neal) who escapes a Chinese military prison with the help of a ring that makes him invisible. He's given this gadget by another prisoner for reasons that are unclear. After he reaches home turf in NYC the U.S. government takes advantage of his disappearing act by turning him into a spy. They send him to take down a criminal mastermind played by Donald Pleasance, who riffs on his own Blofeld character from You Only Live Twice. Chases, crashes, quips, and snafus soon follow.
Here's the thing. Serious films that turn out bad are often unintentionally enjoyable; comedies that turn out bad can be slow torture. Matchless isn't as bad as extraordinary rendition and enhanced interrogation in a CIA black site, but isn't much of a step up from there either. It's mostly tedious, witless, and punch drunk stupid, but it's redeemed slightly by Nicoletta Machiavelli and Ira von Fürstenberg, and we imagine it can be fun if you watch it with a gaggle of friends and gallons of intoxicants. But then again, almost anything is.
She tried rational discussion when she was younger but it never got her anywhere.
Above, the front and rear covers for I Prefer Murder by Browning Norton (aka Frank Rowland) and Charles A. Landolf, 1956, for Graphic Books. We compared this to other examples and the yellows on this one seem to have faded considerably, but it's still a nice piece, for which you can thank artist Saul Levine. You can see more of his work here.
It's not a party until someone gets broken.
Ramona Stewart's The Surprise Party Complex is a mostly forgotten tale of West Coast weirdness, with wannabes, once-weres, and their children mixing in and around a Hollywood boarding house called the Pyrenees. The goings-on of a particular summer are chronicled by fifteen-year-old Pauline, who's been dragged out to Tinseltown by her father, a man intent on restoring a lost fortune by making a big score on a silver mine. Pauline ends up chumming aimlessly around with two other Pyrenees teens, both of whom have bad parents and lots of idle hours. They have some comic misadventures, and naturally one of them has problems a bit darker than the other two. The basic theme here is all that glitters in Hollywood is not gold, and the young generation has issues. Yes, it sounds like the same novel that has been written about every generation since at least World War I, but this is one of the better efforts, we think, and cleverly written too. It captures a place and mood that, as former L.A. residents, really enthralled us. This 1963 Pocket Books edition initially caught our eye because of the excellent cover art by Harry Bennett. This happens to us a lot—i.e. come for the art, stay for the story. Well, Harry certainly did his job here. We've talked about him before, and he once again shows what a unique painter he was.
Satanic mentoring program expands from boardroom to bedroom.
Devil: Now that she's out of her wedding gown, grab it and we'll sell it on Ebay. Snag her ring too.
Man: Get out of my head, shoulder devil!
Devil: Tie her to the bed and use her body until it's a dried out husk.
Man: Shhh... quiet!
Devil: What are you worried about? She can't hear us.
Man: Just stop, devil. It's my honeymoon. Take the night off.
Devil: No can do. Our pact is 24/7.
Man: But that was for you to make me a better businessman!
Devil: Trust me, what you wanna do to her is what big business wants to do to everybody. Now insult her and act like she deserved it. I taught that one to the president and he loved it.
I see dead people. Not next week's lottery numbers. Not future stock fluctuations. Just useless, creepy dead people.
Richard Matheson was a well known writer who published many novels and short stories, penned teleplays for The Twilight Zone, and wrote the novel Psycho—which later became Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller—but his 1962 supernatural novel A Stir of Echoes is a bit obscure. It's probably better known as a 1999 movie starring the ubiquitous Kevin Bacon. The story here deals with a man whose talent as a medium is accidentally unleashed when he's hypnotized at a party. The book isn't elegantly written. A typical sentence: He walked weavingly toward the door. But you don't have to be a master stylist to tell a good story and that's what Matheson did over the course of his long career, churning out great concept after great concept, here unspooling the tale of a man who can't control his unbidden psychic talent. With the power to see the future, the protagonist gains unwanted knowledge of kidnapping, adultery, a shooting, and other violent and nightmarish occurrences. It defies belief that all this happens in a week or two on a formerly quiet suburban street, but A Stir of Echoes is an entertaining story with a nice twist ending. We haven't seen the movie but we're curious now.
But I don't want a new husband. I never even liked the old one.
The Widow is typical Orrie Hitt sleaze about a man torn between nice but sexy Norma, and bad girl Linda, whose husband leaves the narrative early when he cracks up his hot rod. The main character Jerry, a widower who hasn't been the same since that tragic event, soon finds himself not only caught between the nice girl and the new widow, but being pushed into a murder-for-money plot. This is always a bad idea, but reading Hitt is sometimes a good one, as long as you can appreciate his unique stories without being too concerned with writing ability. We just scored eight of his books, so you'll be hearing about him in more detail. 1959 on this one, with uncredited cover art.
Gemser heats up the deserts of Egypt.
Cinematic sleaze was often fueled, the same as was mainstream filmmaking, by star power, so it was natural to bring two popular erotic performers like Laura Gemser and Annie Belle together. It happened today in 1976 with the Italian premiere of Velluto nero. At some point after its theatrical release it was renamed for English speaking audiences Black Emmanuelle, White Emmanuelle. Gemser was actually Indonesian, born in Surabaya, East Java, however 1976 was the blaxploitation era and everybody wanted a piece of that pie, including, obviously, Gemser's production company Rekord Films. Gemser could have played anything from half black to Persian to southern Italian to Hawaiian to Latina, so it was a canny—if cynical—bit of cultural appropriation. But back then it was seemingly no harm no foul. Audiences wanted to see her naked, and she always delivered.
In Velluto nero Gemser plays a model who vacations in Egypt with her horrible husband and meets the free-spirited Belle, who awakens her to better possibilities in life—ones that don't include her criminally abusive spouse. It's generally agreed that this is one of Gemser's most tepid Emanuelle entries. We have to concur. But Gemser and Annie Belle in the same movie are worth something, at least, and the Egyptian scenery is compelling. We also like that Belle's multi-colored sweater makes another appearance. She must have lifted it from the costume department when she filmed Laure. Velluto nero isn't the last we'll see of her or Gemser, and we'll just have to hope the next encounter is an improvement over this one.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
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