Aliens arrive on Earth to show humanity how killing is really done.
Above is a French edition of the 1898 sci-fi classic The War of the Worlds, published by Éditorial J'ai Lu in 1959 as La Guerre des mondes. H.G. Wells' vision of monstrous invaders with giant war machines, drooling mouths, and a thirst for human blood is still scary even today. The cover on this is by Italian artist Giovanni Benvenuti, a true master we've documented extensively. You can see what we've done on him by clicking here and scrolling down.
Late for work again. Really tempted to sneak in but it's a slippery slope from there to using my powers for evil.
H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man has been reprinted scores of times, with this cover ranking among the best, in our estimation. It was painted by Geoffrey Biggs for Classic Illustrated's 1959 edition. Below you see the original art, which sold at auction for more money than most people can put together without going on a robbery spree. You can see a bit more from Mr. Biggs here.
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.
Jean de la Hire’s truth is stranger than fiction.
The French sci-fi novel L’Invisible was written by Jean de La Hire, aka Espié Adolphem, for Éditions Jaeger et Hauteville’s Fantastic series in 1953. The set-up is ingenious here—basically, H.G. Wells’ famous novel The Invisible Man was a disguised factual account, and this book reveals the truth about the man Wells fictionalized. He develops an invisibility potion, uses it to make a fortune, and later faces a choice between continuing on his path or giving it up for love. The cool cover art is by René Brantonne.
Argentine edition of classic takes art in different direction.
This 1938 printing of H.G. Wells’ 1898 masterpiece La guerra de los mundos, aka The War of the Worlds, leaps right to the top rank of covers we’ve seen. It was published by Buenos Aires based Editorial Tor, a company founded in 1916 by Juan Carlos Torrendell. Despite the demented Mickey Mouse aspect of the fanged alien, and the fact that it’s a completely different vision from any other cover treatment we’ve seen for the book, we think the overall feel of the piece is very much on target. Unfortunately we have no artist info.
They don’t show mercy. They don’t negotiate. They don’t listen. They don’t care.
Kampf der Welten is, we’re sure you can guess from the art, the West German title for War of the Worlds. This cinematic adaptation of H.G. Wells’ famous 1897 serial starred Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, and if you haven’t seen it we suggest it’s worth the time, though it’s quite different from the novel. Actually, we recommend the novel too. It’s grimmer than the film, and has a distinct, rationalist point-of-view that was whitewashed for cinema audiences. Actually, not whitewashed—more like inverted to portray the clergy heroically, where in the novel it is characterized by cowardice. Spielberg and Cruise left that out, too, in their 2005 interation, but in other respects their movie is very close to the book. In addition to the German promo, we also have the three English language posters below. War of the Worlds premiered in the U.S. during the summer of 1953, and reached West Germany today in 1954.
The shape of posters past.
More Swedish poster art, this time for Alexander Korda’s Things to Come, aka Tider skola komma. This design, with its art deco touches, is by Mauritz Moje Åslund, an illustrator who was most active during the 1930s, and who also worked in commercial art, set design, political propaganda, and animation. Things to Come was adapted by H.G. Wells from his sc-fi novel The Shape of Things to Come, and the movie reached Sweden today in 1936.
Hitchcock presents thirteen excellent tales of terror.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Bar the Doors contains some of the best macabre fiction we’ve ever read. The collection begins with H.G. Wells’ violent, oppressive tale of murder and voodoo in Sierra Leone “Pollock and the Porroh Man.” The story was written in 1895 and comes with the sort of classical styling you might expect, but with a surprisingly modern pacing as the first paragraph finds the lead character caught in the middle of a stabbing. Pollock pulls a gun to defend himself and the Porroh Man flees, but not before casting an infuriated gaze back that promises revenge. Little does Pollock know that revenge can take supernatural form. You’d expect the tale to be laced with racism, and it is—this line from the first paragraph is simply amazing: “At any rate, the Porroh Man stabbed the woman through the heart as though he had been a mere low class Italian.” African characters fare far worse. However in this context of mortal struggle between a voodoo conjurer and a self-entitled Englishman, racism comes off as impotence against overwhelming powers.
“Pollock and the Porroh Man” was written four years before Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Conrad’s work is a novella-length masterpiece, whereas Wells’ story is under ten pages, but Wells is quite successful at exploring a different heart of darkness by bringing to life the deepest colonial fear, the one chortling, brandy-swilling men laugh at as long as they’re in a well lit room bolstered by their own numbers—the fear that munitions and cruelty will suffice to maintain control only insofar as natives aren’t pushed too far. But when that day comes, when native peoples have had enough, then colonials will find that voodoo and magic are real, that technology is truly the illusion, and bloody payment is due for crimes committed against people that wanted only to be left alone.
There are other great stories in the collection—F. Marion Crawford’s “The Upper Berth” tells the tale of a man who has an unwanted supernatural visitor in his stateroom every night; Alfred Noyes’ “Midnight Express” preys on readers’ classic misgivings about deserted tube platforms; Ambrose Bierce’s “The Damned Thing” tackles the Lovecraftian theme of an other-dimensional beast that cannot be seen; and McKnight Malmar’s “The Storm” might be of interest to those who just experienced last night’s thunderous downpours in Great Britain. In fact, the entire collection is stormy night reading. Obviously, we very rarely discuss books in detail here, because—let’s face it—it’s tedious, but we’ve made an exception this time because Bar the Doors is an unusually good collection, first published in 1946 and reprinted numerous times, as the selection of alternate covers above reveals. Highly recommended.
Blame it on the radio.
Today in 1938, Orson Welles vaulted into stardom by narrating his famous radio presentation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. In adapting the novel, which concerns an invasion by malevolent Martians bent on the total destruction of humanity, Welles decided to use fictional news bulletins to describe the action. These were presented without commercial breaks, leaving listeners to decide whether the familiar sounding news flashes were truthful. Since a radio show had never used the news flash for dramatic purposes, many people were confused. The public reaction was described at the time as a panic, but historians now dispute that claim, suggesting that newspapers embellished the stories to make radio look bad. At the time print media feared radio would put them out of business, so they took advantage of an opportunity to deride radio broadcasters as irresponsible.
Newspaper embellishments notwithstanding, there is no doubt the broadcast caused widespread anxiety. Only the first forty minutes of the show were in bulletin format—after that it would have been clear to listeners they were hearing a dramatization. But not everyone listened to the full hour. In the tense atmosphere that had been created by the lead-up to World War II, many people assumed they were listening to a broadcast about attacking Germans, rather than Martians. Some people left their homes, either to confirm events with neighbors, or to try and see the invaders for themselves. A crowd gathered in Grover’s Mills, New Jersey, where the attack was reported have begun. If there was indeed a panic, it subsided quickly when it became clear there were no invaders. In the end there was only one long-lasting effect from the broadcast—Orson Welles, who had been just another radio personality, became the most famous man in America.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1981—Ronnie Biggs Rescued After Kidnapping
Fugitive thief Ronnie Biggs, a British citizen who was a member of the gang that pulled off the Great Train Robbery, is rescued by police in Barbados after being kidnapped. Biggs had been abducted a week earlier from a bar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by members of a British security firm. Upon release he was returned to Brazil and continued to be a fugitive from British justice.
2011—Elizabeth Taylor Dies
American actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose career began at age 12 when she starred in National Velvet
, and who would eventually be nominated for five Academy Awards as best actress and win for Butterfield 8
and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. During her life she had been hospitalized more than 70 times.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
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