I promised my husband I wouldn't smoke anymore, but since I already broke one promise I might as well break them all.
Above, a cover for Two Sided Triangle by Gus Stevens for Brandon House Books, 1965. The company's most beautiful covers were painted by Fred Fixler. Is this a Fixler cover? We don't think so. Brandon House, through its art direction, seemed to make all its illustrators paint like Fixler, but while similar, this doesn't look like him to us. We could be wrong. We could always be wrong. It's happened. More than once. But we like this cover quite a bit, and it amuses us that the male figure seems to be staring directly where the sun don't shine on his female companion, which is probably what we'd be doing under the circumstances too. If you have an idea who painted this, Fixler or otherwise, feel free to drop us a line.
Those dirty bushwhackers done hung him. And nobody else in the entire territory's got feet delicate enough to walk on my back when it acts up.
When we saw this paperback at the blog canadianflybynight we immediately had to share it because it serves as an addendum to our cover collection of unfortunates who've been hanged. We gather the story here deals with a corrupt syndicate ganging up to steal the land of a stubborn rancher. Somewhere in there the cowpoke with the daintiest feet in the west is cruelly strung up. The novel is originally 1939, and this Harlequin paperback with curious cover art by D. Rickard appeared in 1950. See our hanging collection here.
It should have launched a memorable career but didn't quite work out that way.
Do people who like film noir also like NFL football? We ask because the Noir City Film Festival wraps up tonight in head-to-head competition with the Super Bowl. For football haters, the fest is a chance to get out of Super Bowl households for the duration of the game, but for others it's a tough choice. Film noir and football are similar. Both feature hardheaded men pitted in mortal struggle against forces arrayed against them. Both feature unexpected plot twists. Both put physical safety at risk. In both cheating is rampant (at least when the Patriots are involved). In neither is victory assured. We wonder what the festival organizers would have done if the 49ers had made it to the title game. Hah hah‚ that's a joke. They knew—everybody knew—the 49ers would suck this year.
Anyway, tonight the festival features two films, one of which is 1961's Blast of Silence. Written, directed by, and starring Allen Baron, the film is a fascinating counterpoint to Stanley Kubrick's Killer's Kiss, which showed at Noir City a few days ago. Both are low budget crime thrillers shot in New York City about men desperate for better lives whose needs center on women. Where Kubrick's protagonist is a pug boxer whose interest in a beautiful neighbor makes him want out of the ring, Baron plays a killer-for-hire whose random encounter with a woman from his youth triggers second thoughts about his chosen career.
Many reviews of Blast of Silence are of the glowing variety, but while it's seamlessly put together and the noir flourishes are well executed, it suffers from Baron's acting, as well as that of other performers. But everyone loves an auteur in the rough. It's easy to look past the acting and see Baron's behind-the-camera talent. Given a chance he might have had a very different career. Watching Blast of Silence you can imagine it. Like gruff voiced narrator Lionel Stander says at one point, “You get a feeling this is how it was meant to be.”
Instead Baron put together one more low budget movie before migrating into television, where he intermittently directed shows like The Brady Bunch and Charlie's Angels. Hmm... Brady like Tom Brady and Angels like Los Angeles? Um... where were we? Oh yes. It's amazing how Baron's career diverged from Kubrick's despite both making low budget NYC thrillers of similar quality. Was Baron as talented as Kubrick? We aren't saying that. Just that it would have been interesting to see what his cinematic career might have looked like. But if film noir teaches anything it's that in life, as in football, things don't always work out the way they should. Go Rams.
They'll have to choose what they hate more—their circumstances or each other.
The Noir City Film Festival rolls on with Robert Wise's 1959 thriller Odds Against Tomorrow. Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan star in a heist story that brings a touch of underground jazz and an edge of racial tension to the narrative mix. It would play nicely on a double bill with In the Heat of the Night, but fits at Noir City too. In fact it might be the darkest film noir on the bill. Belafonte is in debt to mobsters and Ryan is broke and feels emasculated being supported by his girlfriend. When ex-cop Ed Begley brings the two together for a lucrative robbery both see it as the only answer. The robbery has the same problems associated with any heist, with the added complication of Ryan's racism.
Some reviews of this film try to suggest equivalence between these two characters. Uh, no. Belafonte's separatist leanings and distrust of whites in a society that is unfair toward him is a precaution; Ryan's separatist leanings and distrust of blacks in a society that favors him is oppression. This is a basic sociological truth as it relates to power in any society, and it's irksome that some reviewers miss this. Belafonte respondsto aggressive hate with reactive hate. The expectation that he possess superhuman forbearance while his oppressor can be merely human removes context and wrongly demands that everybody behave identically despite their different circumstances and different locations within the spectrum of power.
Much of the movie examines Belafonte's and Ryan's respective attitudes along these lines, with the heist coming in a flurry of action at the end. The robbery is basically foolproof, but only if the powder keg of racial resentment doesn't blow it sky high. The points Wise is making here, which originate with William P. McGivern's novel, are simply these: cooperate and succeed, or fight and fail. All Ryan needs to do extend the hand of respect, but because of his prejudice he fails again and again, which hardens Belafonte's already suspicious attitudes. Who do these two hate more—their circumstances or each other? That's what Odds Against Tomorrow asks, about its characters, and the U.S. Festivalgoers will leave the cinema talking about this one.
Yes, you should have, but you didn't exit at Albuquerque, did you?
Like a comfortable sweater the Jan Hudson pseudonym was used by many, but in this case she was George H. Smith. That name, in turn, belonged to two other actual authors published during the 1960s, including one who wrote swamp sleaze novels. The Smith of Hell's Highway also wrote as M. J. Deer, Jerry Jason, Dusty North, and so forth. It all gets pretty confusing. What we know for sure, though, is that this effort is copyright 1962, with an unknown cover artist, and cool graphics on the rear.
A man is only as good as his word.
As the promo poster makes clear, the 1958 crime drama Murder by Contract deals with a killer for hire. That's nothing special, but Claude, played by Vince Edwards, is a different kind of fella. He's single-minded, socially distant, and harbors a nebulous, smoldering hostility. He has theories and plans, and being a killer is the quickest way to for him to get what he wants out life. Everything goes fine for this contractor until he's asked to do away with a woman, played by Caprice Toriel in her only film role. Reluctance isn't the issue for Claude. Just the opposite in fact—he's willing but feels he deserves more money for killing a woman. Why?
Claude: “I don't like women. They don't stand still. When they move it's hard to figure out why or wherefore. They're not dependable. It's tough to kill somebody who's not dependable.”
Is Toriel going to be tough to kill? Oh, you betcha. This contract is more trouble than Claude is prepared for by orders of magnitude, not least because two temporary sidekicks he's working with for this important job are distrustful of his methods, and the target has police protection. Getting to her is going to require creativity. Which may be just what this otherwise confident character lacks. With its no frills style, quirky humor, and Django Reinhardt-esque score by Perry Botkin Sr., Murder by Contract is not film noir, but the disaffected killer that's its subject makes it a good choice for the Noir City festival. Recommended stuff.
Baby, this has been like winning 100 million bucks.
Above, a nice cover from Brandon House Books for Sin Lottery, a sleaze effort credited to Bob Howard, who was in reality a pseudonym used by William Stroup. 1962 on this, with proficient but uncredited art.
These thieves will probably steal the entire film festival.
This poster for the 1957 film noir The Burglar looks pretty low rent, doesn't it? The movie is modestly budgeted too, but money isn't everything when it comes to making art. The film, which plays at Noir City tonight, opens with a nocturnal suburban heist that leaves a trio of break-in artists headed by Dan Duryea with a gaudy piece of $150,000 jewelry they can't hope to fence until the heat goes down. That means they have to wait, and with this mismatched group that means the pressure goes up. There's a fourth person in the mix. Jayne Mansfield, star of the promo poster, is the crew's eyes and ears, casing places they want to rob.
The Burglar is an early role for Mansfield, coming three years into her career, but it also arrived in cinemas a year after the big Twentieth Century Fox musical comedy The Girl Can't Help It, which featured her in full sex kitten mode, with the corset-crunched hourglass figure and helium voice. The irony is The Burglar was actually filmed before The Girl Can't Help It, but Mansfield's milieu had been set in stone by Fox's expensive hit. The Burglar challengingly asks her to be by turns innocent, tough, frustrated, terrified, and vulnerable. Basically, it asks too much this early in her career. But she gets by far the best line, when asked by Duryea at one point why she's being so fickle and difficult:
“You don't know? You really don't know? Well look at me! I'm a woman! I'm flesh and blood and I've got feelings!”
That one might bring the house down. A better actress might have nailed this dialogue, which was written by David Goodis working from his own novel, but as delivered by Mansfield the bit is funny, and actually goes on to hit other comedic notes. Though The Burglar demanded too much of the inexperienced Mansfield, she hurts the final product little, because the movie comes across like a sneaky parody anyway. With one partner in Mickey Shaughnessy who's creepy and rapey, and another in Peter Capell who's as highly strung as a banjo, head crook Duryea has assembled by far the worst gang in film noir history. There's no thought—not even for a second—that these three are going to achieve their goals.
But the movie is 190 proof noir—a knock-you-on-your-ass cocktail of nearly everything cool about the form. You get voiceover, flashback, nightmares, a loyal good girl led astray plus a femme fatale played by Martha Vickers, outrageous shadows, angular framing, hard-boiled dialogue, one crooked-as-fuck cop, a brassy, jazzy score, and beautiful night-for-night location work from director Paul Wendkos and cinematographer Don Malkames. And as bonuses you get a funhouse scene that's pure genius, and a high diving horse. The Burglar is sure to please all fans of old movies, but for noir lovers and lucky Noir City attendees in particular, it's nothing less than a landmark. You can learn a bit more about the film in the post below.
There's no amount of loot that can fill an empty soul.
Yes, we read the novel The Burglar right after watching the movie. We could have done it the other way around, but this seemed to make more sense. We went into the book wondering if the movie's merits were due to director Paul Wendkos or author David Goodis. Turns out it was both. Goodis wrote the screenplay, and his adaptation reshapes several crucial elements. Primarily, the movie has police procedural elements the book doesn't, and a take on the problem of sexual harassment that feels very 2019. On the other hand, an aspect of the novel we're surprised survived is the relationship between Gladden (Jayne Mansfield in the film) and Harbin (Dan Duryea). In both book and film Harbin takes over parenting Gladden when her father is killed, making them father figure and quasi daughter. In the film Mansfield even calls Duryea her foster father. That's pretty provocative, considering she wants to make the eight-limbed mattress monster™ with him.
Overall, it's no surprise the novel became a movie—it's great. The emotional desperation of Harbin, Gladden, and the other woman Della (played by Martha Vickers in the film) verges on painful to endure as a reader. They latch onto each other with a ferocity that's only matched by a fourth character's deadly lust for the stolen jewels. All this intensity comes in addition to a brilliant plot set-up for the entire exercise. We don't know if we'll ever again pair movie watching with immediately reading the source material, but it was interesting this time. Did it take the fun out of the book, knowing what would happen? Not at all. Goodis's novel is different enough that we weren't sure what would happen, actually. We owe this enjoyable read entirely to the Noirfest. We might have stumbled across the book randomly at some point, but without the movie to take us there, probably not.
Edit: Okay, we'll quit with the eight-limbed mattress monster™ bit. It was funny at first. You had to be there.
The blood may stop but the stain is permanent.
These old movies. The Scarlet Hour is fun in a way modern flicks simply aren't. Basically, a rich man thinks his young wife is two-timing him. She and her lover, seeking privacy one night, drive to a secluded lookout. Three men arrive and discuss plans to rob a nearby hilltop mansion. The take? $300,000 in insured jewels. The lovers, from their hiding place, hear the plot and decide that if they rob the robbers they can get enough money to run away together. Their consciences are clear about it, because the goods will have been stolen already. But the husband, now deciding to do something about his wife's nocturnal forays, begins following her around. On robbery night that puts him in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time.
It's a twisty set-up, handled deftly thanks to Rip Van Ronkel's, aka Alford Van Ronkel's clever screenplay. The complications keep coming, which means The Scarlet Hour has surprises in store all the way to the end. And as a bonus it was directed by Michael Curtiz, the man behind Casablanca, and as sure-handed a director as ever worked in Tinseltown. It also has a nice nightclub number by crooner Nat King Cole. As far as we know, there are no good digital transfers of the film available, which means a rental or download may yield a less than pristine television rip (like the one we watched). Noir City will be showing an archival print, which would make this worth the extra effort to see even if the movie weren't great, which it is. But even if you aren't anywhere near San Fran tonight, this is one to keep in mind for future viewing.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Blaine Act Passes
The Blaine Act, a congressional bill sponsored by Wisconsin senator John J. Blaine, is passed by the U.S. Senate and officially repeals the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, aka the Volstead Act, aka Prohibition. The repeal is formally adopted as the 21st Amendment to the Constitution on December 5, 1933.
1947—Voice of America Begins Broadcasting into U.S.S.R.
The state radio channel known as Voice of America and controlled by the U.S. State Department, begins broadcasting into the Soviet Union in Russian with the intent of countering Soviet radio programming directed against American leaders and policies. The Soviet Union responds by initiating electronic jamming of VOA broadcasts.
1937—Carothers Patents Nylon
Wallace H. Carothers, an American chemist, inventor and the leader of organic chemistry at DuPont Corporation, receives a patent for a silk substitute fabric called nylon. Carothers was a depressive who for years carried a cyanide capsule on a watch chain in case he wanted to commit suicide, but his genius helped produce other polymers such as neoprene and polyester. He eventually did take cyanide—not in pill form, but dissolved in lemon juice—resulting in his death in late 1937.
1933—Franklin Roosevelt Survives Assassination Attempt
In Miami, Florida, Giuseppe Zangara attempts to shoot President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, but is restrained by a crowd and, in the course of firing five wild shots, hits five people, including Chicago, Illinois Mayor Anton J. Cermak, who dies of his wounds three weeks later. Zangara is quickly tried and sentenced to eighty years in jail for attempted murder, but is later convicted of murder when Cermak dies. Zangara is sentenced to death and executed in Florida's electric chair.
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