When the lights go down the stars come out.
This beautiful poster with a statuesque dancer front and center was made to promote a documentary on burlesque, a Japan-only release with no western distribution or title, called 日本の夜, which basically would translate as “Japanese Nights.” The central figure is Gypsy Rose Lee, and the movie was filmed in 1962 by Keiji Oono—not in Japan, but rather largely at Le Lido de Paris, home of the legendary Bluebell Girls. Le Lido still exists, though it's moved from its original 1946 location. If it's anything like the poster, with singers and geishas and glittering comet trails, we'll be visiting on our next trip to Paris.
Gangsters try to steal Robert Ryan's boxing future.
In film noir there are procedural cop movies. The Set-Up is a procedural boxing movie. It tries to take viewers behind the scenes of the violence, bloodlust, and money to focus on the nuts and bolts of the fight game. Starring Robert Ryan as an aging heavyweight and Audrey Totter as his fretful girlfriend, most of the first half of the film takes place in a claustrophobic locker room as boxer after boxer goes out for subsequent bouts of a six card program like gladiators in Rome's Coliseum. Ryan is the main event, and when his name is called the action shifts to the ring for his fight, which is shown in something close to real time.
Ryan is hoping a win over an up and coming young fighter will earn him one last shot at fortune and glory, but he has no idea the fix is in. Somebody should have told him, because if he wins the bout he'll be in heaps of trouble. This is a good flick. It was helmed by Robert Wise, has some fantastic directorial extravagances, and looks spectacular in general, like the gritty documentary photos of Arthur Weegee Fellig, which is no small feat for a film shot entirely on an RKO backlot (Weegee, incidentally, has a cameo as a timekeeper). In the realm of boxing movies The Set-Up stands toe to toe with most. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.
So I gather *smooch* we're not going to make it *smack* to the movie?
Orrie Hitt's 1957 sleazer Untamed Lust is better-than-usual work from him about a strapping farmhand and trapper named Eddie who lands a job on a big spread peopled by a sadistic invalid, his highly sexed wife, and his highly sexed daughter. Eddie has a girlfriend, highly sexed, who wants to marry him, but Ed, who's highly sexed, wants to nail the wife and daughter, not lose his job as a result, and avoid a murder-for-inheritance plot. Complications ensue.
Is it just us, or is it way too exhausting to consider trying to bed three women who are part of the same household? Maybe we're not highly sexed enough. Eddie spends a lot of time snaring defenseless animals, and we think there's a metaphor in there, but for the life of us we can't puzzle it out. Hitt is just too subtle for us. The cover art here is obviously in no way farm related. It looks more like office or suburban sleaze.
Beacon assistant editor: “But this art has nothing to do with the story. Eddie's a trapper who never wore a suit in his life, and the chicks are all earthy farm girls.”
Beacon head honcho: “You're fired.”
The cover art is obviously something Beacon-Signal picked up, possibly from an earlier paperback, just because it was easier than commissioning a custom cover. They didn't even bother to credit the artist. But whatever. You like highly sexed farm girls and hunting? This book is for you. But keep in mind, though we said above it's better than the usual Orrie Hitt, it's still nothing approaching a masterpiece.
She's got this caper in the bag.
What does the Devil drive? People, apparently. Robert Ames' thriller The Devil Drives, for which you see a nice Barye Phillips cover above, has a labyrinthine plot at the center of which is one of the most duplicitous femmes fatales ever, a bad woman named Kim Bissel. In a small Florida town, numerous people are after bags of money from a deadly armored car robbery, loot that went missing after the getaway boat crashed and upended. Cold-blooded Kim wants the cash more than her male rivals can possibly comprehend, yet they continue to underestimate her—at their mortal peril. We've noted before that the only true respect women received in mid-century fiction and cinema was as deadly criminals. Pyrrhic, considering the possible punishments in store, but you'll find yourself on this feminist fatale's side as she tries to beat the odds. While the plot is improbable, the book works because of Ames' hallucinatory, irony filled, interior monologue driven prose. Recommended stuff, from 1952.
This is a Dior blouse you've managed to ruin, FYI, just in case you have anything resembling a human soul.
The lead character in Peter Rabe's Stop This Man is a jackass, but he isn't a rapist. This cover by Darcy, aka Ernest Chiriaka, does capture his essential nature, though, as he's bossy as hell and sees woman mainly as objects to be possessed or manipulated. When he intrudes into the back room of a club and encounters a female employee changing clothes he intimidates her into continuing so he can see her naked. As often happens in mid-century crime novels, she decides this makes him a real man and falls for him. It's not rape but it's definitely rapey. But of course us modern readers are aware of this going in, right? The sexism, the racism, all the rest, are features of 1950s crime literature. Each person needs to decide whether there's something to be gained in the fiction beyond its obvious affronts to societal values.
In Stop This Man lots of people are trying to stop Tony Catell, but not from harassing women. They want to thwart his criminal master plan. In mid-century crime fiction the main character is often in possession of an ill gotten item he expects to open the gateway to a better life. It may be money or bearer bonds or a rare diamond. Here the item is a thirty-six pound ingot of stolen gold. Catell hopes to fence it but the trick is to find an interested party who will give him a good price. Did we forget to mention that it's radioactive? There's always a catch, right? People who come into extended contact with this brick of gold die, but that doesn't stop Catell. He wraps it in an x-ray technician's lead lined apron and travels from Detroit to L.A. seeking a buyer for this lethal hunk of heavy metal.
Catell is kind of radioactive too, actually, in the sense that he's bad news through and through. He plans to sell his killer treasure, but has no idea the radiation is turning it into mercury. It's a cool set-up for a thriller by the experienced Rabe. You may be thinking 1952's Kiss Me, Deadly did it first, but Spillane's novel does not have the radioactive suitcase made famous by the movie adaptation, so this could be—could be, because we haven't read every book out there—the first time this nuclear gimmick appeared. It was originally published in 1955, which means it's also possible the nuclear angle was influenced by Kiss Me Deadly the film, which appeared in May the same year. But while Stop This Man is cleverly set up and is as hard-boiled as any crime novel we've come across, overall we felt it should have been executed at a higher level.
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.
One good swing deserves another, and since we screened Tarzana, sesso selvaggio, we thought we'd check out another Italian female Tarzan movie, 1968's Luana la figlia della foresta vergine. Basically, a man who disappeared into the African jungle many years ago is sought by the daughter he left back in civilization. The father had taken a second wife who bore him a second daughter. Unbeknownst to the first daughter, her father and his new wife died, and the second daughter grew up in the jungle alone, befriended by birds, primates, and an assortment of big cats. So the first daughter leads a jungle expedition and ends up stumbling upon a half sister that spends her time swinging on vines from water hole to water hole.
Describing the premise of this movie was probably more trouble than it was worth. All we really needed to say is that it's a film that features hot French actress actress Evi Mirandi and hot Vietnamese actress Mey Chen, aka Mei Chen Chalais, who has no lines at all but looks great running around in a loincloth. She also knows the jungle well enough to avoid the carnivorous flowers, something that—crucially—can't be said of others. The rest is unimportant. The poster art above is interesting, we think. It's signed, illegibly, and nobody has yet determined who the artist was. Someone in Italy needs to work that out. We'll just wait here trying to decide whether Luana la figlia della foresta vergine was actually any good. It premiered today in 1968.
Chariot Books opts for alternate spelling of “tonight” when they learn graphic designer charges by the letter.
Actually, we have no idea why the book cover says “tonite.” We didn't buy a copy, so your guess is as good as ours. Here's what we do know. Tonite is sexual awakening sleaze about a smalltown girl who learns how to play men like fiddles in order to get what she wants. Nothing new there, but we do like the unusual art with its ragged white border at the bottom. It's very different for the time period. Chariot was not great about crediting artists and this one is no exception. Put it in the unknown bin, 1962.
All you have to do is lick a finger and lift.
We absolutely love these things. This is a Technicolor lithograph with a cellophane or acetate overlay, which if you lift—and of course anyone would—reveals the same figure undressed on the page beneath. As we've mentioned before, we think—but cannot be sure—that these originated with the French nudie magazine Paris-Hollywood, and we've shown you some examples from that publication. The U.S. innovation was adding a Technicolor printing process that made the final product more vivid than the French versions. As you see below, the shot was also used for a standard Technicolor pin-up without the overlay. The print is titled “Alluring,” from around 1955, and as usual we can't identify the model. Many of these items featured centerfolds and celebrities, but others used more obscure subjects. See more U.S. Technicolor overlay examples here, here, and here, and check out a couple of French ones here and here.
Nick and Nora Charles—never shaken, never stirred, and almost never sober.
1934's The Thin Man is what we like to think of of a palate cleanser. After reading a few less accomplished authors you grab a Hammett because you know he's great. It's pure fun following functional alcoholic Nick Charles and his equally hard drinking young wife Nora as they navigate deception and murder. How much do Nick and Nora Charles drink? At one point Nick wakes up feeling terrible and realizes it's because he'd gone to bed sober. Several cocktail sessions a day is about average. Maybe that's why danger doesn't faze them. Even being shot at is reason for a libation and a quip.
This edition of The Thin Man is a rare one. It's the Pocket Books paperback from 1945, with the type of art that was prevalent on paperbacks during the heyday of pulp. We can't tell you much about the book that hasn't already been written, including the fact that it's less a mystery than a comedy of manners, but there is one aspect that's rarely commented upon. Nick Charles is of Greek descent. His full last name is Charalambides. This was the ’30s, when there was open racism in the U.S. against Greeks. James M. Cain delves into this in The Postman Always Rings Twice, in which the Greek character Nick Papadakis is insulted behind his back and set apart as a non-white inferior.
So in The Thin Man Hammett was portraying Nick Charles not as the upper crust dilettante William Powell made famous in the film version, but as a tough guy outsider. People are a bit afraid of him. Filmgoers were definitely not afraid of pencil mustached William Powell. Hammett wanted the written Charles to possess street cred, to be a person who had been places and seen things others had not. Hammett was going for a different type of detective in more ways than merely his drinking habits. Charles' maverick role is just a little extra flavor in an already entertaining novel. The actual mystery is difficult to follow, but even so we highly recommend this if you haven't read it.
Any of you hardened felons seen my beautiful virginal daughter lately?
Mitchell Hooks handles the cover work on this Gold Medal edition of the 1957 Tarn Scott thriller Don't Let Her Die. The book concerns a well connected prison inmate who uses his outside-the-walls contacts to kidnap the warden's daughter and maneuver for a pardon in exchange for her life. We say maneuver rather than demand because the convict keeps deniability throughout, claiming to know nothing even as the warden daily receives anonymous ultimatums, with a little extra motivation provided by photos of his terrified daughter nude. The warden caves pretty quickly, appeals to the governor for the pardon, is refused, and that's where things get interesting. There's more grit than usual here, but certain lines will not be crossed, and the reader is well aware of that, despite all the menace injected into the prose. Even so, Scott—a pseudonym used by Walter Szot and Peter G. Tarnor—certainly showed promise. Sadly, the pairing only produced a few books.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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