This Cameron Kay fella might just amount to something one day.
Cameron Kay was a pseudonym used by literary leading light Gore Vidal when he was short of cash and needed to publish and get paid fast. He'd used other pseudonyms for this purpose, including Edgar Box and Katherine Everard. It took him about three weeks to produce 1953's Thieves Fall Out, and he made three grand on the deal. It's one of those books where a money-seeking rando goes to a foreign country and immediately inserts himself into the biggest caper going for hundreds of miles around—and does it, improbably, with great ease, while seeming to think, irrationally, that it's a good idea. This character, named Peter Wells, ultimately turns sour on the venture and must figure out a way to flee Egypt with his true love by his side.
Though Vidal is not at the heights he'd reach in his best writing, you already know that going in. In the final analysis he gets the job done, like a good carpenter working on a quick side project. We glanced at a few reviews after finishing the story and they seem to miss the point that Vidal does exactly what adventure fiction requires. Saying the book's plot is stock is like saying dance music is repetitive. It has to be that way to make you dance. Because of the identity of the author, it feels as if reviewers try to flaunt their intellectual bona fides by trashing the result. We're not going to do that. The book is satisfactory.
What Vidal does especially well is local color—though refracted through a wealthy Western prism that few Egyptians would appreciate. Yet it's clear he tries to be egalitarian, if imperfectly, and he crafts a tale with unique characters. There's a piano playing hunchback who hides behind a wall and looks at his nightclub through a peephole, a beautiful French countess who was once the mistress of Egypt's top Nazi, and a fresh young beauty who's the unrequited love of King Farouk of Egypt—who has her followed everywhere by his secret police. Those ideas are unusual, for sure, but they're not as farfetched as some reviewers would like you to think.
We make that statement confidently because we've lived in the wilder world. In Guatemala we met an ex-judge from a proximate country who had fled because of being targeted for death by the new ruling party, but who was a drunk who craved public enjoyment and had shaved his head and grown a beard in order to hang in dive bars unrecognized. Was his story true? Maybe. He had a judicial identification card he eventually showed us that looked real enough. Real enough, in fact, that we gave him a wide berth from then on, thinking that if he was assassinated we didn't want to be in the line of fire. It may not sound real, but there you go. It happened.
Therefore we don't agree with reviewers who think Vidal's characters are intentionally absurd, and that he was pushing the envelope of how bizarre he could make his cast. Such people exist. Vidal would have found them. They make Thieves Fall Out a fascinating read. The book isn't top of the genre, nor bottom, but it's unique, and has a fun climax tied into the burgeoning Egyptian revolution and the real-life fire that destroyed one of the most famous hotels in the world. Here's what Thieves Fall Out is in summation: readable, distracting, and just leftfield enough to let you know the author is someone with a different take on the world, who'd later distill his ideas into fiction that would make him a literary sensation.
If you think this looks ridiculous you should see my winter wardrobe.
Austrian actress Sybil Danning has a lot of promo images with guns, both realistic and fake, due to her appearance in several over-the-top action movies, including 1984's Euer Weg führt durch die Hölle, aka Jungle Warriors, 1983's Chained Heat, and 1980's Battle Beyond the Stars, for which she shot the above photo. All of those films have attained cult status of varying levels, but the latter is amazing because of the people associated with its production. Its stars included respected actors Robert Vaughan and George Peppard, its screenplay was written by John Sayles, its efx were helmed by James Cameron, and its driving force was schlockmeister supreme Roger Corman. We may take a look at it a bit later, but in either case Danning will return.
If anyone's going to impress her by magnanimously paying an exorbitant restaurant bill it's me!
This issue of Adam magazine hit newsstands in July of 1968, and our header refers not only to the two brawlers on the cover, but to the fact that this issue bore the smashing weight of something heavy for years, a fact made clear by the six rusty pressure dents that go clean through the magazine. Maybe the owner used it to level a work table in his garage, which we can't approve of as proper usage for the greatest men's magazine in Australian history, but even so, the scans mostly came out okay. Adam covers, which were usually painted by Jack Waugh or Phil Belbin, are always nice, but of special note in this issue is interior work from an excellent artist who signed only as Cameron. You'll find two efforts below. The editors didn't see fit to (and rarely did) credit artists in a masthead, so Cameron's full identity will remain a mystery. At least for now.
The cover illustrates Roderic J. Fittoc's “Gentleman's Agreement,” about rivarly and adultery among the smart set, but the more interesting tale is Victor Blake's “Dead Girls Can't Run.” The cool title gets an opening reference in the story, and a callback. First, concerning a tragedy in the main character's recent past, Blake writes, “But now Zelda is dead and Bertie is blind. He lost his eyes and lost his girl—but don't go thinking she came running back back to me. Dead girls can't run.” As the story devlops, the narrator is betrayed into prison by woman named Nikki. Though there's nothing good about being locked up, he figures at least he can enjoy picturing how graceful and athletic Nikki is, espeically when she runs. That pleasure would be ruined if he were free, because he'd have to kill her, and dead girls can't run. Double duty for the title phrase. We liked that. Twenty-nine scans below.
All the worst things together in one place.
It's been a while since we got our hands on an Ace double novel. Ace Double 59 features Robert Bloch's Spiderweb and David Alexander's The Corpse in My Bed. The first has cover art by Harry Barton, and the second, despite looking painted by the same artist, is actually uncredited. Two decent books here. Spiderweb deals with a novice grifter who embarks on a long con under the tutelage of a devilish criminal mastermind. Pretty soon he's committing terrible deeds against his will, including setting up his own girlfriend's politician father for a scam. We were more than a little surprised when the book used the identical gag that we raved about in Lou Cameron's 1960 novel Angel's Flight, in which a hat blown by the wind becomes a crucial life lesson. Check here to understand what we mean. At first we thought Bloch had stolen the idea from Cameron, an assumption we made because Angel's Flight is a far superior book, but nope—Spiderweb predates Angel's Flight by two years. It goes to show that the old adage is true: good writers borrow, great writers steal.
The Corpse in My Bed, originally titled Most Men Don't Kill, tells the story of a former soldier who in his civilian career as a detective finds himself in the classic shamus pickle—standing over a corpse amidst possibly incriminating evidence. A war related head wound plus some booze leaves him unsure whether he merely found the body or caused it, so he goes into hiding while his partner Chet and an acquaintance nicknamed Tommy Twotoes try to get to the bottom of the puzzle. It isn't easy to come up with a character that really stands out in the pantheon of mid-century crime fiction. Twotoes—a 300-pound millionaire with a weird affinity for penguins—is one you'll remember for a while. We checked to see if Alexander used him in other novels, but as far as we can tell he didn't, though he seemingly showed up in a few short stories. Both Bloch and Alexander do good work here, a bit rough around the edges at times, but well worth a read. Just don't pay $350, like one vendor is charging. We got them for twenty bucks. Schwing!
1960 jazz novel soars to great heights.
Told over a span of years wrapped around World War II, Lou Cameron's novel Angel's Flight appeared in 1960 and was set in the mid-century jazz scene. Cameron writes in a beat style, imbues his prose with a powerful sense of place, fills it with factual anecdotes, colorful characters, and wild slang, ultimately weaving a sprawling tale of rags to riches, hope and struggle, and one man's determination to maintain his integrity in a cutthroat world.
We realized we were reading something really good during a scene a quarter of the way through in which the main character, Ben, is chatting with his nemesis Johnny in the parking lot of a movie studio. Johnny is trying to get Ben to understand something elemental about how to achieve success. Ben isn't getting it. Johnny says, “Watch this. You'll learn something.” He grabs Ben's panama hat from his head and sails it away.
Ben: “Hey, that cost me eight bucks!”
The wind takes the hat, and it skips and rolls away. But a nearby man chases it down, and, huffing and puffing, eagerly returns it to Ben. After the man leaves, Johnny explains that the good samaritan was no random guy, but was the production chief, one of the top guys at the studio. Yet despite his position, he chased the hat. “He'd have done that for any grip on the goddamn lot,” Johnny says.
Ben: “So he's democratic.”
“You still don't dig me? Christ, you're thick!”
Johnny goes on to explain that the studio exec chased the hat because it was a reflex, just like Pavlov's dog. And if you understand people's reflexes you can control them. “They don't think," he says. "They react. Show them a picture of a blind girl with a puppy and they get lumps in their throats. Wave a flag and they stand. Show them a picture of Hitler and they hiss. Are you getting the picture? Do you dig what I'm saying?”
But no, Ben doesn't get it. He is thick. And his reply almost put us on the floor laughing:
“All I dig, you bastard, is that you used my hat! Next time gives a fat lip!”
It's a funny, insightful, cleverly conceived scene, and from that point forward we settled in for what we knew would be an amazing ride. Another funny exchange involves Ben's roommate and occasional sex partner Dorothy, who works as a nude art model and often can't be bothered to wear clothes around the apartment. Note: in the dialogue below, “Read from a map,” is slang for reading sheet music.
I asked Dorothy if she knew a cat who could read from a map. She thought prettily for a moment and said, “There's my husband, Tom. He used to play cello.”
"Don't you know anybody but your husband? He's liable to take a dim view of life as he finds it on the Sunset Strip.”
“Oh, Tom won't mind. He's very progressive.”
“He'd have to be. Is there anybody you haven't slept with who reads music? For that matter, is there anybody you haven't slept with?”
That's funny stuff. Ben had no idea until that moment Dorothy was even married. But he really needs someone who can read music, so his desperation causes him—save for a touch of exasperation—to ignore Dorothy's surprising revelation and all its strange implications, which makes the scene all the funnier.
But Angel's Flight isn't a comedy. It's a gritty tale about a jazz musician trying to make it in L.A., and mixed into the narrative is crime, betrayal, and drugs, along with harsh racial and homophobic language. But it also features many ethnic and gay characters in actual three-dimensional speaking roles, rather than as exotic ornaments. The white characters aren't spared racial insults either. In the end, each reader needs to decide whether to endure rough content, or say no to a significant piece of vintage literature.
Those who forge ahead will read a memorable story. They'll learn about the origins of jazz and the mechanisms of the music industry, from forming bands, to gigging, to pressing records, to earning radio play. They'll also discover that the title Angel's Flight is metaphorical on multiple levels. The villain is Johnny Angel, bi-sexual hustler extraordinaire. The song that secures his fame is called “Angel's Flight.” And of course the title predicts his meteoric rise in the music industry.
But most importantly, the book's title also references the vintage Angels Flight funicular in downtown Los Angeles. Ben has never been on it. He wonders what's at the top. He rides it one night and finds that at the end of the line there's nothing. Just a dark street. And lonely ambition. This is a highly recommended book. The Gold Medal edition, which you see above, has Mitchell Hooks cover art.
The future's so bleak he has to wear shades.
Above, a poster for the game changing science fiction adventure The Terminator painted for the Czech (then Czechoslovakian) market by Milan Pecak. The fading effect at the bottom of the art is the way Pecak painted it, rather than the result of a bad scan or photo. This movie may look a bit clunky to modern viewers, but so will Avengers: Infinity War in twenty years. Along with stunners like Alien, Blade Runner, and others, The Terminator changed the idea of what cinematic science fiction could be. It premiered in the U.S. in 1984 and eventually arrived in Czechoslovakia as Terminátor today in 1990.
The mafia are no match for Jim Brown.
In the blaxploitation flick Slaughter Jim Brown plays Slaughter—no first name—a former Green Beret captain whose underworld connected father is killed by a car bomb. He vows revenge and guns down some of the responsible parties at an airport. That's when the government steps in and turns Slaughter into an operative in exchange for dropping murder charges. All he has to do is head to Mexico and capture the top mobster. South of the border he goes, where shootings, chases, and general mayhem follow as he pretty much turns the country upside down. There are occasional interesting visual flourishes during the violence, including hallucinatory ultra wide angle shots. Maybe director Jack Starrett heaped on the style a bit heavily, but it does set Slaughter apart, and in the end doesn't really harm the final product. Another thing heaped on is the racial insults, even more than in most blaxploitation, and if there's a lesson being imparted it's that eventually n-bombs go off in your face.
Blaxploitation is nothing without its femmes fatales, and in those roles Slaughter casts Marlene Clark and Stella Stevens. Clark, though talented, is mere window dressing here; Stevens gets a substantial temptress role, and she's perfectly suited for it, a dozen years after her Playboy centerfold appearance at age twenty-two, and about twice as beautiful in her mid-thirties. According to Brown, Slaughter is one of the three favorite films he starred in. Maybe Stella had something to do with that. In an interview some years back she was asked about the love scenes and said, “I was told that in the movie he did with Raquel Welch, he had a towel put between them, because he didn’t want to touch her flesh in the love scene with her.* I can tell you, we didn’t have anything between us except good feelings and fun.” Well, it looks like they had a good time to us too, and why not? Stevens is hot as hell and Brown is unadulterated manhood on a level few males can hope to reach. We think this one is well worth a watch for fans of the genre. Slaughter premiered in the U.S. today in 1972.*Jim Brown is no fool, and we doubt he ever made such a request. Welch wore undergarments, which was probably always the plan, considering she has done no nude scenes during her career.
Got a little porn in your past? Don’t worry—the internet will find it.
This Japanese poster promoting a double bill of 1974’s Gosh! (aka Alice Goodbody) and 1975’s The Fireworks Woman features softcore/hardcore actress Sharon Kelly/Colleen Brennan front and center, but she appeared in only one of the films. The other starred Jennifer Jordan, aka Sarah Nicholson, who also appears on the poster, though in the background. Gosh! is a softcore comedy directed by Tom Scheuer featuring Kelly/Brennan as a waitress/wide-eyed ingénue trying to survive/succeed as an actress in Hollywood, while The Fireworks Woman is a fully hardcore tale about a man who joins the priesthood to escape an incestuous relationship with his sister. Spoiler alert—it doesn’t work. It was helmed by Wes Craven—yes, that Wes Craven—under the pseudonym Abe Snake. Porn, whether softcore or hardcore, just makes people want to hide in fake personas, doesn’t it? Scheuer was the only one who didn’t bother and he never worked in cinema again, so the incognitos had it right. But the beauty of the internet is that everyone gets outed in the end. Schwarzeneggar, Stallone, Cameron Diaz, everyone. Happy New Year.
If much more of this movie comes true we’re all in serious trouble.
Like any self-proclaimed seer of the future, H.G. Wells gets some predictions correct in his screenplay for Things To Come. World War II? Check. Indiscriminate aerial bombing of civilians? Check. The movie continues to the year 2036, by which time Earth is ruled by a single world government. He’s going to get that one wrong—it’s corporations that will rule the world by then if people don’t wake up (in a very real sense, the subset of corporations known as banks have already displaced many Western governments). Much has been written about the movie so we won’t get into it in detail. We mainly wanted to show you the wonderful promo poster above with its art deco spaceship and battle suit. The movie is worth seeing for visions like these alone, and director/designer William Cameron Menzies really deserves a lot of credit for bringing them to life. Things To Come opened in Europe in February 1936, and made its way to the U.S. today the same year.
Conduct unbecoming an officer and a publisher.
Above you see a rare book cover from Australia’s Horwitz Company for Jim Kent’s Gestapo Atrocity, an effort that falls broadly into a category of sleaze fiction (and cinema) sometimes called “nazisploitation.” Kent was prolific in this area, and in the realm of war sleaze in general, writing such evocatively titled books as Butchers of Vilna, Officer’s Love Slaves, Women of Landau, and Women of Stalingrad. He also wrote as Thane Docket and Cleve Banner. The rear cover of Gestapo Atrocity succinctly supplies the set-up, and you can read that below. By the way, we’re kidding about that “conduct unbecoming a publisher” crack in the subhead. We just needed something to put there and that was all we could think of. Horwitz published mounds of World War II fiction, nazisploitation being a subset, and all of it sold well to an eager Aussie public. We don’t think it would sell very well today, but you never know—a competent writer and good marketing can put anything over. Gestapo Atrocity was published in 1971, and the art is by Col Cameron. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
1928—Soviets Exile Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky, a Bolshevik revolutionary, Marxist theorist, and co-leader of the Russian October Revolution, is exiled to Alma Ata, at the time part of the Soviet Union but now located in Kazakhstan. He is later expelled entirely from the Soviet Union to Turkey, accompanied by his wife Natalia Sedova and his son Lev Sedov.
1933—Hitler Becomes Chancellor
Adolf Hitler is sworn in as Chancellor of Germany in President Paul Von Hindenburg's office, in what observers describe as a brief and simple ceremony. Hitler's first speech as Chancellor takes place on 10 February. The Nazis' seizure of power subsequently becomes known as the Machtergreifung.
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