I thought about it and decided that an amicable break-up was letting you off too easy.
This striking promo image shows U.S. actress Sylvia Sidney and was made for her pre-Code gangster drama City Streets, in which she starred with Hollywood Legend Gary Cooper. The movie was based on a story idea by Dashiell Hammett. But back to Sidney, she was a legend too, who had an astonishingly long career that began with 1926's The Sorrows of Satan and ended well over a hundred screen and television credits later with thirteen guest spots on Fantasy Island in 1998 and 1999. In between she appeared in movies as diverse as 1988's Beetlejuice, 1932's Madame Butterfly, and 1945's Blood on the Sun. The above photo is from 1931.
Even Powell and Loy's legendary act was bound to get tired eventually.
There's nice Roger Soubie art on this French poster for Song of the Thin Man, the last of six movies in the Thin Man series, which premiered in the U.S. in 1947 and reached France today in 1948. After six sessions the concept might seem a little worn to some viewers, but it still has William Powell and Myrna Loy as the leads. The mystery involves the death of an orchestra musician and the search for a missing bandleader, which leads to Powell and Loy exploring New York City's jazz underground. It's an all-white underground spread across various clubs, gambling boats, and parties, populated by at least fifty musicians, none of them of color. Of all the sight gags in the movie, the barring of black musicians from a film revolving around the art form they invented is the most notable one of all, but that's mid-century moviemaking for you.
The jazz gimmick is useful anyway, because it gives the filmmakers the opportunity to have Powell—as upper class supersleuth Nick Charles—play the role of a fish out of water. He understands neither the hipster jazzcats nor their customs and slang, and in about half a decade probably turns into the white-haired bartender from The Wild One. Even so, he needs to find and unmask a murderer in order to free a wrongly accused acquaintance from police custody. In true Thin Man fashion, he quips his way through the proceedings, plays cagey with femmes fatales Marie Windsor and Gloria Grahame, and finally unveils the killer in a nightclub populated by all the suspects. Loy is reliable as always in the sidekick role, and even amusingly picks up a few words of hep lingo.
While Dashiell Hammett originated the two characters of Nick and Nora Charles, he didn't touch Song of the Thin Man. Instead it was written by veteran crime novelist Steve Fisher and comedy writer Nat Perrin. Their union, unlike Nick and Nora's marriage, is an uneasy pairing, though it's hard to put a finger on what exactly is wrong. The mystery has an interesting backdrop, but is never compelling, while the humor seems clunkier than in the past. Powell and Loy do their best, but the movie failed to earn back its production budget, and the franchise came to an end. There were screenwriting and production issues, but we suspect that the real culprit was simple boredom—slayer of movie series and marriages alike. Audiences had simply moved on. World War, generational cynicism, and the emergence of grittier cinema will tend to cause that. Song of the Thin Man premiered today in 1947.
For a fulfilling killing nothing beats a blade.
Today we have for your pleasure a collection of vintage paperback covers featuring characters on both the giving and receiving ends of knives—or knifelike tools such as icepicks. Above you see Harry Bennett art of a poor fella getting a knife from nowhere. Maybe Damocles did it. It's a funny cover because we don't think we'd grab our throats if we got stabbed in the spine, but let's hope we never find out. Below, in addition to numerous U.S. and British offerings, you'll see covers from France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. There are many, many paperback fronts featuring knives—we mean hundreds—but we decided to stop ourselves at thirty-two today. These do not represent the best (as if we could decide something like that), or our favorites, but merely some interesting ones we've come across of late. If you're super interested in this particular motif we have plenty more examples in the archives. They'd be hard to find, because we don't keyword for knives, so here are some links to get you there: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
I'm pummeling you extra because I know when you tell the story later you'll say a man did it.
We already showed you a great 1958 Panther Books cover for Dashiell Hammett's 1929 debut novel Red Harvest. This cover comes from Perma and hit newsstands in 1956 with art by Lou Marchetti. We found it on Flickr. Hammett falls into that rare category of authors: a game changer. And this first book length effort from him is amazing. You can read a bit more about it here.
The difference is in the details.
The phenomenon of vintage illustrators copying each other is a subject of interest and bafflement to us. We've talked about it a lot. When it happens, usually it's a great illustration being copied by an anonymous artist of far lesser ability. Other times, though, it's two top level artists painting the same piece. We assume these are initiated by the copyright holders, whether movie studios or publishing houses.
Today we have an interesting example from the literary world. In 1962 Enrico de Seta painted a brilliant cover for a Digit Books edition of Dashiell Hammett's classic mystery The Glass Key. The same year, amazingly, Digit commissioned another, almost identical cover from illustrator Dan Rainey. You see it at top, with the de Seta cover underneath. We also have de Seta's piece in our usual pixel size, here, from a post back in 2014, so if you're on a mobile device feel free to click over there for more resolution. De Seta originated this tableau, so we give him more credit, but it's great work from Rainey too, even if it's almost a copy. We'll show you more from him later.
George Raft does the heavy lifting in 1935 crime thriller.
Is there any vintage movie star as overlooked these days as George Raft? The man was one of the top box office draws of the 1930s and had a string of hits through the 1940s and into the 1950s, including the 1959 smash Some Like It Hot. He was an ace stage dancer at the beginning of his career, but onscreen this natural athlete strikes many modern viewers as too dumpy for the tough guy roles he pioneered. Which makes it ironic that he was associated in real life with several gangsters, which led to him appearing in court, and in turn led to the public believing he was really living the thug life. Rather than hurting his popularity, the whiff of criminality made him more popular—something to keep in mind whenever some self-appointed sociologist slams kids for liking rappers.
Above you see a poster for one of Raft's biggest successes, the 1935 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel The Glass Key. A 1942 version would also be a big hit for Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and the fact that it was rebooted just seven years after the original would seem to tell you plenty. But Raft's version isn't bad. We think it's simply a case of technical advances in the process of shooting films and the continuing popularity of Hammett making the property an attractive one to redo. Watching both movies back to back is a clinic in how quickly filmmaking advanced as the ’40s rolled around, particularly ideas around staging and editing action.
Even so, Raft made this earlier version of The Glass Key a hit by virtue of his star power, despite the fact that critics were not overly impressed with the film. No less a figure than Graham Greene said it was “unimaginatively gangster,” which is a curiously millennial turn-of-phrase. But Raft, playing the capable right hand man of a top underworld figure who's on the verge of open warfare with his enemies, doesn't deserve any of the blame. His hard boiled persona is the only reason this otherwise static film is worth watching. The Glass Key premiered in the U.S. today in 1935.
Dashed hopes and bad dreams fuel classic pulp collection.
Above, a cover for Nightmare Town, which is a collection of four short stories Dashiell Hammett wrote for pulp magazines between 1927 and 1933. You get 1924's, “Nightmare Town,” best of the four tales in our opinion, which deals with a tough guy who fetches up in a lawless desert way station and soon finds himself in the middle of violence and murder. It's similar to Red Harvest, Hammett's novel of another town lashed by a bloody hellstorm, except this novella length tale ends almost apocalyptically. The other tales here are 1925's “The Scorched Face,” 1933's “Albert Pastor at Home,” and 1925's “Corkscrew.” All are good, though we think Hammett is better in longer formats. You get illustrations too. Those are not very good, objectively speaking, but you're buying this purely for the fiction anyway. Also, the 1950 Dell edition you see here is a collectible mapback edition, which is a bonus. But no matter what, Hammett always hits the spot—usually a major organ or artery.
Sam Spade chases danger in Dashiell Hammett story collection.
Run don't walk to find any Dashiell Hammett book. He's mandatory reading. In A Man Called Spade you get a tale about a boxer and the fight racket, three stories starring Sam Spade, and, “The Assistant Murderer,” in which Hammett introduces readers to detective Alec Rush, whose physical ugliness is surpassed only by his mental acuity. Hammett really liked the idea of crime solvers who came in unlikely packages. His Continental Op character was short and fat, while Rush had a face only a mother could love. Hammett, a former detective himself, was thin, dapper, and handsome, but he clearly identified with these characters and wanted to de-glamorize detectives. In so doing he became one of most popular authors of detective fiction who ever lived. Besides several nice stories, as a bonus this Dell paperback from 1950 with Robert Stanley cover art is also a mapback edition, as you see below. You have to appreciate how Dell included these maps even when the narrative dictated that they be minimal at best. A Man Called Spade is a good example. All the action in the title story takes place in a single house, and largely in a single room. But Dell gave readers a map anyway. Consistency counts. See alternate art for this book here.
Remember when politicians were motivated not by money and power, but by a desire to help people? Neither do we.
Below, a small collection of vintage paperbacks all featuring images of the U.S. Capitol. They're reminders that the building has always been a place of intrigue and treachery. Which is exactly why it's perfect for our website.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1930—Movie Censorship Enacted
In the U.S., the Motion Pictures Production Code is instituted, imposing strict censorship guidelines on the depiction of sex, crime, religion, violence and racial mixing in film. The censorship holds sway over Hollywood for the next thirty-eight years, and becomes known as the Hays Code, after its creator, Will H. Hays.
1970—Japan Airlines Flight 351 Hijacked
In Japan, nine samurai sword wielding members of the Japanese Communist League-Red Army Faction hijack Japan Airlines flight 351, which had been en route from Tokyo to Fukuoka. After releasing the passengers, the hijackers proceed to Pyongyang, North Koreas's Mirim Airport, where they surrender to North Korean authorities and are given asylum.
1986—Jimmy Cagney Dies
American movie actor James Francis Cagney, Jr., who played a variety of roles in everything from romances to musicals but was best known as a quintessential tough guy, dies of a heart attack at his farm in Stanfordville, New York at the age of eighty-six.
1951—The Rosenbergs Are Convicted of Espionage
Americans Ethel and Julius Rosenberg are convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage as a result of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. While declassified documents seem to confirm Julius Rosenberg's role as a spy, Ethel Rosenberg's involvement is still a matter of dispute. Both Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953.
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