1950 jazz mystery tries to take a step forward with an innovative approach.
When you maintain a website that discusses vintage paperback art, you stop being amazed when a cover isn't credited. This one for Bart Spicer's 1950 novel Blues for the Prince is unattributed, and that's too bad, because the painter put together a nice scene. What's unique about the novel, as you might guess from the evocative art, is its setting within the black American jazz community (the blonde singer at centerstage does not materialize within the narrative, by the way). The plot revolves around a white detective named Carney Wilde hired to disprove claims that a murdered jazz legend's music was all plagiarized. Wilde at first ignores the homicide because it's unrelated to his assignment of determining the provenance of the songs, but he soon finds that the plagiarism claims and the killing are intertwined.
Fictional detectives are usually idealized creations. They're the toughest, smartest, and most irresistible of men, so why not the most egalitarian too? Wilde is basically color blind, even within his interior monologues—which is to say, he's not faking his lack of prejudice. It's an interesting choice by Spicer, as Wilde moves through an entirely black world, but proceeds without seeming to notice anything in the way of major ethnic or cultural differences. Obviously, this is because Spicer's narrative constructs no differences. He doesn't write of any notable poverty, impactful racism, or police brutalilty. Wilde does, however, see something of a difference in class. The dead musician—Harold Morton Prince, aka the Prince—has left behind a rich family that has plenty to protect. Wilde is firmly on their side, not least because the Prince is one of his idols. But in investigating the crime he learns that legends are humans too, and that scratching the surface of an idol often reveals something beneath the gleam.
The tale benefits from its unusual setting. It's solidly if unspectacularly written, we think, and improves as it progresses, ushered toward its climax by a nightclub scene in which Spicer shows off his musical knowledge by taking nearly an entire chapter to describe a hot jazz set. His approach to the story in general is a question worth exploration. If not for a few descriptions and one or two incidents of specifically aimed language, Blues for the Prince could be like many other mid-century novels set within the jazz world—i.e. these could all be white characters and you'd have essentially the same book. So Spicer really did two nearly opposite things here: he foregrounded black characters in a mid-century novel in a way most authors would not, and he suggested a potential evolution of black-populated fiction to a state of pure entertainment devoid of topical issues. If the novel were just a little better it would probably be widely discussed today. As it is, this jazz mystery is still worth a read.
They won't be playing by themselves for long.
Above are two 1950s-era Technicolor lithographs featuring a pair of models with playing cards. Only the second is playing solitaire. The first seems to be spokesmodeling: “Call now and you can win a deck of enormous cards!” The first litho is called, “Ace of Hearts,” and the second, which has been retouched to the extent that it has the look of a painting, is titled, “No Cheating.” We don't know who the women are. That's true of about half the lithos we share. Occasionally, though, someone emails us with an identification, so feel free. We're always around.
Learn how to be a killer in one easy novel.
Above is a colorful cover for Peter Rabe's Le tueur, a book better known as Anatomy of a Killer. It was published as the latter in 1960, with this French translation from Éditions de la Trevisse appearing the next year. Obviously, there was a better known novel—actually a novela—by John. D. Voelker, aka Robert Traver, called Anatomy of a Murder that was published in 1958 and became an acclaimed Jimmy Stewart movie in 1959. Why did Rabe choose such a similar title? No idea. But the title tells the story: detailed examination of a professional hitman, as the narrative follows him from killing to killing. The art on this is by Jacques Blondeau, who painted numerous book covers during the 1960s. Based on this nice effort we'll stay alert for more of his work.
Not quite a jacket, but not quite a dress.
We were thinking shirt-dress when we first saw this promo image of German actress Marlies Draeger (or Dräger if you prefer), but it isn't really a shirt. It's more like a jacket. So we looked up shirt-jacket and were surprised to learn they exist, but they're called jacket-dresses, and they prove that there's no niche of women's fashion that hasn't been filled. Draeger/Dräger is wearing hers in a shot made for her 1968 thriller Dynamit in grüner Seide, known in English as Death and Diamonds, and she looks amazing.
Some men go head over heels for a woman.
We have another of issue of Adam magazine for you to feast your eyes upon. This one was published in January 1973, and the cover illustrates the story, “Death Rail,” in which author Jack Ritchie asks the eternal philosophical question, “What do men think about when they are falling?” The answer is probably: how to land on the other guy. And what does a woman think about? In the story she congratulates herself for having inherited everything that belongs to her falling husband, and all just by making him erroneously believe she was screwing his business partner, and luring the two into a balcony fight. And the twist, unrevealed until the last sentence, is that it was all a misdirection play. She actually had been cheating, but with the chauffeur, not the business partner. Pretty good work from Ritchie, and another excellent effort from Adam.
What! A big bubble? Well, yours looks like five pounds of potatoes in a ten pound sack!
It seems like Florida novels are a distinct genre of popular fiction, and most of the books, regardless of the year of their setting, lament how the state is being drawn and quartered in pursuit of easy money. But those complaints are usually just a superficial method of establishing the lead characters' local cred. Theodore Pratt, in his novel The Big Bubble, takes readers deep inside early 1920s south Florida real estate speculation in the person of a builder named Adam Paine (based on real life architect Addison Mizner), who wants to bring the aesthetic of old world Spain to Palm Beach—against the wishes of longtime residents.
Paine builds numerous properties, but his big baby is the Flamingo Club, a massive hotel complex done in Spanish and Moorish style. He even takes a trip to Spain to buy beautiful artifacts for his masterpiece. This was the most interesting part for us, riding along as he wandered Andalusia (where we live), buying treasures for his ostentatious palace. He buys paintings, tapestries, sculptures, an ornate fireplace, an entire staircase, basically anything that isn't nailed down, even stripping monasteries of their revered artifacts. His wife Eve is horrified, but Paine tells her he's doing the monks a favor because they'd otherwise go broke.
You may not know this, but Spain is pretty bad at preserving its ancient architecture. That's another reason The Big Bubble resonated for us—because Spain is very Floridian in that it's being buried under an avalanche of cheap, ugly developments. We love south Florida's Spanish revival feel. What's metastasized in Spain is a glass and concrete aesthetic that offers no beauty and weathers like it's made of balsa wood. The properties are basically glass box tax dodges. The point is, reading The Big Bubble felt familiar in terms of its critique of real estate booms, but simultaneously we saw Paine as a visionary. He made us wish Spanish builders had a tenth of his good taste.
Since the book is set during the 1920s (and its title is so descriptive) you know Florida's property bubble will burst. Paine already has problems to deal with before the crash. Pratt resolves everything in interesting fashion. He was a major novelist who wrote more than thirty books, with five adapted to film, so we went into The Big Bubble expecting good work, and that's what we got. And apparently it's part of a Palm Beach trilogy (though he set fourteen novels in Florida total). We'll keep an eye out for those other two Palm Beach books (The Flame Tree and The Barefoot Mailman). In the meantime, we recommend The Big Bubble. Originally published in 1951, this Popular Library edition is from 1952 with uncredited art.
Some actresses consider it a role to die for—literally.
This is a beautiful Robert Maguire cover, somewhat different from his normal style, that he painted for Patrick Quentin's 1957 mystery Suspicious Circumstances. Quentin was a pseudonym used by various authors, but in this case Hugh Wheeler was behind the façade. The cover blurb describes murder breaking down the Hollywood star system, and that's basically what you get, as the book centers around nineteen-year-old Nick Rood, nervous son of globally adored actress Anny Rood, and follows his suspicions that his mother has killed in order to steal a plum movie role. The book is written in amusing and affected fashion, and is filled with characters speaking in ways no humans do, or likely ever did:
“It's positively Greek. Sophocles would purr. Aeschylus would run not walk to the nearest papyrus or whatever he wrote on.”
How very arch. Thanks to various crises, third party manipulations, and suspicious deaths, the coveted film role repeatedly falls into and out of Anny Rood's lap, while fragile Nick flips and flops from suspecting his mother of murder to not. Meanwhile a newcomer to the entourage, a young secretary named Delight Schmidt, turns Nick's head with her beauty and sweetness, but may be just ambitious enough to have a hand in everything that's occurring. Mid-century authors seem addicted to portraying Hollywood in comical or farcical fashion, but we can't argue with the results here. Suspicious Circumstances is well written, generally interesting, and occasionally funny as hell.
You never know when your time is up. Usually.
Above: Veronica Lake stars in a menacing promo photo made for her 1944 spy movie The Hour Before Dawn. She plays a pure femme fatale, a bad woman living in London as a double agent in the employ of the Third Reich. The movie was poorly reviewed, but we give this image five stars.
Justice is served—ice cold.
Above: poster art for the blaxploitation flick Black Belt Jones, starring Jim Kelly as the last man standing between honest folk and a mafia land grab. We talked about it last year, and you can read what we thought and see the Italian promo art by Ermano Iaia at this link. You can also see two nice Kelly promo shots here and here. The movie premiered in the U.S. today in 1974.
Isabel Sarli is too hot to handle.
Fuego is a movie from Argentina but we were so taken with this Japanese poster that we decided on it over the original promo art. The colors laid atop the black and white background are nice. As for the movie, which originally premiered in 1969 and reached Japan today in 1971, it's a bizarre sexploitation flick about Isabel Sarli and her servant Alba Mujica, who carry on a lustful lesbian affair while Sarli is simultaneously pursued by local alpha male Armando Bo. The triangle is complicated by the fact that Sarli has a little problem: she wants sex so much she doesn't care where, when, or from whom she gets it. The movie's theme song tells the story:
Fuego en tu boca,
Fuego en tu cuerpo,
Fuego en tu sangre,
En tus entrañas,
Que queman mi alma,
Fire in your mouth,
Fire in your body,
Fire in your blood,
In your guts (eww), or alternatively, bowels (eew)
That burns my soul,
It's a good thing Sarli has fire in her blood, because she makes love in the snow. No blanket under her or anything. She's so overheated she goes around her provincial Patagonian town randomly flashing men. She's so inflamed she even squirms and moans when she sleeps. “I don't know if I'm fickle or wicked,” she muses. Her problem is neither. It's really that she's hostage to a cheeseball sexploitation script. She tells her suitor Bo she'll be unfaithful if they marry, but he doesn't care. “I want to be good,” Sarli says. Mission unaccomplished. As her doctor explains, her condition is caused by sexual neurosis. “A neurosis that is particularly manifested in the genitals.”
Okay then. It's unsurprising that the quack doctor next takes a comprehensive feel around Sarli's vagina. But no cure is to be found, there or anywhere, and her condition continues to consume her. Bo (who wrote and directed, as well as did most of the boob kissing) presents her narratively as an almost cursed figure, a kind of tragic sex goddess of Andes. But even so, the movie is no more than a bad South American soap opera. Or really, even a classical opera—it needs only an aria to complete its ascent up majestic Mount Melodrama. Sarli is a legendary sex symbol in South America and she shows why, over and over, but in the final analysis we can't recommend Fuego. However, we doubt we'll ever forget it.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1959—Holly, Valens, and Bopper Die in Plane Crash
A plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa kills American musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, along with pilot Roger Peterson. The fault for the crash was determined to be poor weather combined with pilot inexperience. All four occupants died on impact. The event is later immortalized by Don McLean as the Day the Music Died in his 1971 hit song "American Pie."
1969—Boris Karloff Dies
After a long battle with arthritis and emphysema, English born actor Boris Karloff, who was best known for his film portrayals of Frankenstein's monster and the Mummy, contracts pneumonia and dies at King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst, Sussex, England.
1920—Royal Canadian Mounted Police Forms
In Canada, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, aka Gendarmerie royale du Canada, begins operations when the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, founded 1873, and the Dominion Police, founded 1868, merge. The force, colloquially known as Mounties, is one of the most recognized law enforcement groups of its kind in the world.
1968—Image of Vietnam Execution Shown in U.S.
The execution of Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem by South Vietnamese National Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan is videotaped and photographed
by Eddie Adams. This image showed Van Lem being shot in the head, and helped build American public opposition to the Vietnam War.
It's easy. We have an uploader that makes it a snap. Use it to submit your art, text, header, and subhead. Your post can be funny, serious, or anything in between, as long as it's vintage pulp. You'll get a byline and experience the fleeting pride of free authorship. We'll edit your post for typos, but the rest is up to you. Click here
to give us your best shot.