Ancient Zapotec treasures bring out the tomb raider in everyone.
This poster was made for the 1953 adventure Plunder of the Sun, a title which may sound familiar from David Dodge's 1951 novel. The movie starred Glenn Ford, Patricia Medina, and Diana Lynn, and follows the basic gold hunting theme of the book, but with numerous plot details altered, and the exotic locations around Latin America—particularly Peru—condensed to only Havana and the province of Oaxaca, Mexico. The Havana scenes were shot in Mexico, but the Oaxaca scenes were indeed shot in southeastern Mexico, with location work at the Zapotec ruins in Monte Alban. You can practically hear the head honcho at Wayne-Fellows Productions saying, “I love this book, but we've got to make it cheaper. Why go all the way to Peru when there are perfectly good ruins in Mexico?” The Oaxaca locations are great, though, and extensively used, which really helps the film. Are we saying Plunder of the Sun is good? Well, no we aren't. It doesn't have the depth needed to earn a place in the top ranks of vintage cinema, but it's well shot, and its proto-Indiana Jones feel is interesting enough to keep you watching. We have a few promo images below, and you can learn more about the plot by checking our write-up on the novel here.
They both like the beach, poetry, spicy food, and slaughtering cruel despots. They'll make a perfect couple.
The above posters for We Were Strangers, one of which seems celebratory and another that is more dramatic, could give the impression of a studio that wasn't sure what kind of film it was trying to market. Legendary director John Huston made a habit of confounding executive suites, and here produced a film that probably came close to sending studio bigwigs plummeting in despair off high ledges. The story is set in Cuba during the early 1930s rule of dictator Gerardo Machado y Morales, and deals with revolutionaries who devise a plot to tunnel from a house near a graveyard to the site of a funeral they know the president will attend, and blow him to kingdom come with dynamite.
The movie stars John Garfield and Jennifer Jones, and is beautifully shot, but the characters aren't well written, nor are the performances sufficiently involving. There's nice action, though, especially at the climax. Since the central personalities are revolutionaries in Cuba, many critics denounced the film as Marxist propaganda, which it really isn't. It's just historical drama with unavoidable economic context. You wouldn't think it would be terribly controversial to say that for Americans to live income-wise far above the global average, substantial portions of the world must remain stuck below it, but on the other hand maybe it's understandable that we want to avoid thinking about how earning a nice profit is usually dependent upon others providing raw goods and hard work dirt cheap.
It's a shame the film isn't good enough to sweeten its message with high level drama and thrills. Huston was a workmanlike director who, despite helming numerous classics, wasn't any sort of auteur. He tried to tell stories in ways he felt was best for the material, but he also loved travel, which led him to accept projects based on the potential for exotic location work. Sometimes, as in The African Queen, he struck gold. Other times, as here, he spent a lot of investment capital and made a lot of Hollywood suits cry. We Were Strangers will be of interest to Havanaphiles, but in what was a famously up and down career, this effort comes out on the lower end of the Huston scale. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.
A signing of things to come.
Above is a photo of Brooklyn Dodgers star Jackie Robinson signing autographs for Cuban fans in Havana during the spring of 1947. The Dodgers had used Havana’s La Tropical Stadium as their spring training base during the 1941 and ’42 seasons, and went there again in ’47 to avoid some of the publicity and hostility that would have surrounded Robinson, who was destined to be the first African American baseball player of the modern era. Even away from U.S. shores it was a trying time for Robinson. Havana was run by Americans interests, and was selectively an apartheid city. Robinson stayed at the Hotel Boston in Old Havana, rather than the grand Hotel Nacional in swanky Vedado with the white Dodgers. This annoyed Robinson, but he needed to focus on his play because, though he had been invited to spring training, he was not guaranteed a Major League roster spot. The pressure must have been intense. Even so, in this photo he takes time to sign autographs for Cuban fans, gracious as always, on the cusp of a career that would redefine what it meant to be a Major League Baseball player.
Is there anything sweeter than a beautiful movie palace?
You probably recognize Grauman's Chinese Theatre, in Los Angeles. These days it's called TCL Chinese Theatre, because it's owned and operated by TCL Corporation—based in China, ironically. Since we write so often about movies we thought it appropriate to discuss the beautiful buildings in which the films were exhibited. Back in the day these were usually purpose-built structures, though some did split duty for stage productions and concerts. While many of these old palaces survive, nearly all surviving vintage cinemas in the U.S. were under threat at some point. Generally, if they hadn't been given historic protection they wouldn't be upright today.
Other times, if a city was poor, real estate costs didn't rise and old buildings stood unthreatened, usually idle. This happened often in the American midwest, where movie houses were neglected for decades before some were resurrected amid downtown revitalizations. It sometimes happens in Latin America too, although occasionally the formula fails. For example, Cartagena's majestic and oft photographed landmark Teatro Colón, located in the historic section of Colombia's most popular coastal tourist city, was torn down fewer than six months ago to make way for a Four Seasons Hotel.
Some of the cinemas below are well known treasures, while others are more unassuming places. But even those lesser known cinemas show how much thought and work was put into making moviegoing a special experience. The last photo, which shows the Butterfly Theatre in Milwaukee, exemplifies that idea. The façade is distinguished by a terra cotta butterfly sculpture adorned with light bulbs. As you might guess, many of the most beautiful large cinemas were in Los Angeles, which means that city is well represented in the collection. Enjoy.
Paramount Theatre, Oakland (operational).
Cine Maya, Mérida (demolished).
The Albee Cinema, Cincinnati (demolished)
Cooper Theatre, Denver (demolished).
Paras Cinema, Jaipur (operational).
Cathay Cinema, Shanghai (operational).
Academy Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Charlottenburg Filmwerbung, Berlin (demolished).
Pacific's Cinerama Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
York Theatre, Elmhurst (operational).
La Gaumont-Palace, Paris (demolished).
Essoldo Cinema, Newcastle (demolished).
Théâtre Scala, Strasbourg (operational).
Teatro Colón, Cartagena (demolished in 2018).
Teatro Coliseo Argentino, Buenos Aires (demolished).
Pavilion Theater, Adelaide (demolished).
El Molino Teatro, Barcelona (operational).
Fox Carthay Theatre, Los Angeles (demolished).
Kino Rossiya Teatr, Moscow (operational).
Nippon Gekijo, aka Nichigeki, Tokyo (demolished).
Cine Impala, Namibe (operational).
Cine Arenal, Havana (operational).
Teatro Mérida, Mérida (operational, renamed Teatro Armando Manzanero).
Ideal Theater, Manila (demolished).
Odeon Cinema, London (semi-demolished, converted to apartments).
Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Rex Cinema, Port au Prince (being restored).
Urania Kino, Vienna (operational).
Tampa Theatre, Tampa (operational).
The Butterfly Theater, Milwaukee (demolished).
Flying through the air with the greatest of ease.
Pan American World Airways knew how to imbue travel with an aura of romance. It launched in the late 1920s with mail service from Key West to Havana, and quickly expanded to become a passenger airline. Business boomed—well heeled Americans took flights to Havana in droves in what became known as the Cocktail Circuit, escaping U.S. prohibition to enjoy a weekend of decadent nightclubs and gambling before returning in time for Monday's real world obligations. Soon Pan Am expanded service throughout Latin America and the world. It bought seaplanes to get around the problem of many cities not having proper airports. With the ability to use docking facilities, virtually no destination was inaccessible.
The company dubbed its seaplane fleet “clippers,” evoking the masted sailing ships of the oceangoing era, and their draw was not just their mobility but their luxury. Some say it was a different era of corporate governance, a time when the mandate in the commercial travel industry was to earn loyalty with good service rather than to blackmail customers into avoiding misery. This is partly true, but it's also important to remember that air travel was initially considered a luxury indulgence. It was with the advent of travel for the masses that airlines began to exchange services for profitably packing people in like sardines. In that sense, their priorities have not changed much in fifty years.
Pan Am soon began promoting its services with colorful posters, many of which were created by a talented artist named Mark von Arenburg. These prints, which promised to take passengers around the world by clipper, hung mainly in airports and travel agencies and gave passersby fantastic glimpses of faraway destinations—indeed, it's difficult to look at any of them without feeling the pull of the exotic wider world. The company produced hundreds of these promos in various styles and multiple languages, but for our purposes we're interested today only in the posters advertising travel on that elegant Pan Am clipper.
Over the years the fleet evolved from seaplanes to jets, and while all were called clippers, it's the lovely skyboats that are most fondly remembered—and which provided so many entertaining settings in old movies and pulp fiction. The posters you see below are scans of both originals and reproductions, and there are quite a few. Even so, it isn't a complete collection. Some of the most famous posters are so rare they simply can't be found online at the moment. While it's true that air travelers are mainly treated like cattle rather than customers today, and commercial flying is a form of voluntary torture, the destinations are still there to make those difficult hours in the air worthwhile. Let these posters inspire you.
Havana shopping street catered to the international upper crust.
We're back from vacation. We were surrounded by colonial era architecture, which brought to mind this photo of Havana, Cuba, a former colonial city thousands of miles from where we were, but similar in many respects. The shot was taken along Calle San Rafael sometime during the 1940s. There's a lot of detail in this—in the distance we can see Bar Uncle Sam and a Philco store, and in the foreground the cars and flowing sidewalk mosaics are interesting too. Of particular note is the perfume store El Patio, where a sign tells us the Dana brands Emir, Tabu, and Platino are available. These were pricy concoctions, affordable for only the rare few, sold by a fancy perfumer that got its start in Barcelona back in 1932. Presumably Isaac Habif was a perfume or cologne too, but we can't find mention of it anywhere.
Some of the other businesses on San Rafael included the swank coffee shop Salon H, top jewelers Letrán de Isaac Barquet, Cuervo y Sobrinos, and Gastón Bared, two academies—Academia Pitman and Academia Gregg—which were expensive and private, the department stores Fin de Siglo and El Encanto, Indochina, which was an exotic gift shop, the eyewear boutique El Telescopio, and La Exposición, which sold furs—yes, in that climate. In all, Calle San Rafael wasn't just an ordinary thoroughfare, but a major shopping street serving Havana's economic elite. It remains a shopping street today, but the mosaics and fine brands are long gone. For a bit more on colonial era Havana, have a look here. And for an interesting array of post-revolutionary photos, look here.
Comprehensive photography book looks back at Cuba during the 1960s.
Seems everyone's talking about Cuba these days. Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the island in ages, and every megacorporation from Home Depot to Major League Baseball wants to do business there. By any measure, Cuba's is a remarkable story, particularly its educational and medical accomplishments in the face of an economic blockade that keeps out everything from computer chips to breakfast cereal.
Despite that embargo, Cubans can convincingly claim to be better off than residents in nearby capitalist nations like Honduras (highest per capita murder rate in the world), El Salvador (thousands killed each year by rampaging drug gangs), Haiti (59% poverty rate), and even Puerto Rico ($70 billion in debt—an astonishing $20,000 per resident). But one thing Cubans don't have is the opportunity to accumulate wealth. That may be about to change.
At such a moment, then, it seems like a good opportunity to look back at Cuba as it was during the heady days during and just after the Cuban Revolution. Cuba la fotografía de los años 60 is a large volume of images from that time, shot by such figures as Ernesto Fernández, Alberto Korda, and Raúl Corrales. The photos are mostly rare, and the technical quality is consistently high. We scanned the images below several years ago (the book appeared in 1988), but only just got around to sharing them today. As a bonus, there's an eloquent preface written by Roberto Fernández Retamar, which we've uploaded in its entirety.
If you've followed Pulp Intl. for a while you probably know we lived in Central America for some years, spending most of our time in Guatemala, but traveling around to numerous countries on the isthmus and in the Caribbean. So the region is a subject of some interest to us. Cuba will gain plenty from being allowed to reconnect with the world, but it will lose plenty too. It's impossible to know what sort of balance will be struck. Cubans, excited but also concerned, hope for a better one than exists in many of its neighbor countries, but only time will tell.
It's brain versus brawn in sunny Cuba.
Our favorite luchador Santo el Enmascarado de Plata has taken on monsters and men and beaten them all like your grandmother beats a dusty throw rug. In Santo contra cerebro del mal, or Santo Versus the Evil Brain, he takes on a man with a monstrous plan—a villain who wants to use a thoughtsucking machine to steal worldshattering scientific secrets and sell them to international bidders.
Needing some capable brawn to pull this off, the villain kidnaps Santo, sucks him, and turns him into a dickbag. Don't worry, though—Santo is eventually located by his buddy El Incognito and, after a serious ass whipping administered with the utmost love, restored to his right mind. What a wonderful world it would be if all it took were a couple of suplexes and powerbombs to clear the evil out of people's brains. A single wrestler sent to the headquarters of every transnational bank could save the planet.
This is the first Santo film, shot in Havana in 1961, the year of the Bay of Pigs invasion, and we have to say later entries are much better. But this one does have excellent exteriors shot around town, mainly in the suburbs, which look little different from Miami. The old part, with its baroque buildings and tight streets, was a little too logistically tricky for location work, we're guessing. Havanaphiles and fans of retro thoughtsucking machines, enjoy. All others, maybe take a pass. Santo contra cerebro del mal premiered in Mexico today in 1961.
Jesus. I'm schvitzing like a pig. Shoulda packed my summer mask.
These cholesterol readings are off the charts. What the hell does this guy eat?
Santo! Do something!
Hey, don't look at me. I'm thoughtsucked.
American literary giant Elmore Leonard dies.
After suffering a stroke a few weeks ago, American author Elmore Leonard died at his home in Detroit this morning. Tens of thousands of words will be written about Leonard’s contributions to literature, but we’ll let him speak for himself in this scene featuring a character named Neely Tucker, a journalist intent on perfectly remembering everything that happens, as he witnesses a brewing confrontation between a Cuban military officer and a tough cowboy in a supper club in Havana, Cuba, 1899:
It surprised Neely that Teo didn’t acknowledge Amelia first, ask her pardon for interrupting, walking up to the table unannounced. Amelia’s eyes were glued to the two men facing each other, Teo saying now in a very formal manner, “I request that you meet me tomorrow…” with an accent but the words clear enough: that Tyler meet him in the morning at first light in the Prado by the statue of Her Majesty Queen Isabella, Teo saying his second, Major Lionel Tavalera, would bring the pistols and Tyler would be given his choice of which one he would prefer to use.
Look at Amelia’s eyes, big as saucers, the sweet thing hanging on every word.
Tyler said, “I thought you wanted to sword fight.”
She loved it, looking at Tyler almost adoringly.
Tyler saying, “Now you want to shoot me. ’Cause I wouldn’t saddle a horse for you?”
Neely would tell her later her mouth was open and it distracted him, made it hard for him to concentrate on the details, and he didn’t want to take out his notebook—how would that look? He’d have to remember what was said.
Teo was saying now, “You insult me.”
Tyler asking him, “How do I do that?”
“The way you speak. You show no respect.”
“Why should I respect you?”
“There. You see?”
“What you need to do,” Tyler said, “is get over your touchiness. You understand what I mean? You’re too sensitive, got a thin skin on you. I’m not gonna stand out there by a statue and let you aim your pistol at me, not over something as piddling as you wanting your own way.”
There was no mistaking the hussar officer’s expression of hostility. Neely noted the narrowing of his eyes to slits; he glanced at Amelia to see the adorable creature completely absorbed.
Tyler saying now to Teo, “You have a war going on. Doesn’t it give you enough people to kill?”
Teo didn’t waste a moment. Neely watched him shift his gloves from his left to his right hand and crack Tyler across the face, stinging him good with those kid gloves—harder in fact than need be, only the formality of the slap required and ordinarily accepted as a challenge. What was in no way part of the duello rites was Tyler cocking his fist and driving it hard into Teo’s wide-eyed expression, sending him stumbling back off-balance all the way to the bar, where Lionel Tavalera caught him around the shoulders and kept him on his feet. Neely could see that Teo, now the center of attention, wanted no help from anyone. He used his elbows to free himself of Tavalera, and Neely thought, Now what? Rant and rave? Promise the American he’ll kill him for sure on the morrow?
No, what Teo did, he drew a short-barrel pistol from inside his suit—a .32, it looked like—extended the weapon in what must be a classic dueling pose in the direction of Tyler, barely more than six paces away, and while he was taking deliberate aim, intent on an immediate finish to this business, Tyler pulled a big .44 revolver from inside his new alpaca coat and shot Teo Barbón in the middle of the forehead. My Lord, the sound it made! And there, you could see the bullet hole like a small black spot, just for a moment before Teo fell to the floor.
That’s how magical writing can be, how masterly. Leonard shifts from past tense, to simple present tense, to progressive present, to future, and even mixes in conditional mood effortlessly, as he shuffles Neely Tucker’s in-the-moment observations of the incident with his concerns about how he’ll write it up for his newspaper and his internal dialogue concerning the beautiful onlooker Amelia Brown. All in that passage. That’s how good he was. And the rhythm of his long, multi-clause sentences—because writing is crucially rhythmic—is mesmerizing, aided by his careful use of punctuation.
Those lines are from his best book, in our opinion, Cuba Libre, which is not one of his standard American westerns nor one of his many hard-boiled crime books, but rather an adventure set in Cuba on the eve of the Spanish American War, and it’s one of the books people will remember, and probably study in college courses. Yes, Leonard breaks some of the unspoken rules of elegant writing, yet rules are often successfully broken by great artists—indeed, it’s almost a pre-requisite.
A couple of years ago, a long article appeared in The Guardian and their book critic pointed out that Leonard was not a great a crime novelist or a great western novelist, but simply a great novelist, one of the best writing in English and had been for at least twenty years. He said a shift had begun to occur in literary circles and critics were beginning to realize nobody else in any genre or branch of literature could do what Elmore Leonard did. Dead today at age eighty-seven.
Uncensored takes readers from New York City to Spain to Havana in search of dirt.
Uncensored returns to Pulp Intl. for the first time in over a year with an issue published this month in 1955. The story of Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra’s tumultuous relationship (and the Spanish bullfighter who helped ruin it) has been covered numerous times, so no need to get into it again just now, but the photos are certainly worth a look. Uncensored shares other nice images as well. There’s Eartha Kitt (described as not much to look at “unlike such Negro beauties as Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne”), Sarita Montiel (who in Mexico was allegedly on the receiving end of a horsewhipping by Miguel Aleman’s jealous wife), and Marlene Dietrich (seen both onstage performing and offstage fulfilling a G.I.’s request for a kiss). The latter photo, from 1945, appeared in Life and many other magazines and remains one of the most famous Dietrich images. So Hollywood starlets take note: if you want millions of dollars in free publicity, no need to get arrested or leak nude photos—just kiss a fan.
Uncensored readers also meet Father Divine, (who we wrote about here), his alleged rival Prophet Jones, get a glimpse of nightlife in the so-called Bohemia of NYC’s Greenwich Village, and are introduced to “The World’s Hottest Hot Spot,” Havana, Cuba. Readers see photos of an actual drug deal taking place on some backstreet and learn that the city is “Babylonian bedlam,” where “one can buy marijuana, cocaine, forbidden wormwood liquor, illegal bon bons, or just oblivion.” There’s a photo of a woman outside a revolving repository at Havana’s Orfanato Beneficia (Beneficia Orphanage) where mothers could leave their unwanted babies as easily as mailing a postcard. The caption on the photo? “Despite its bawdiness, Havana has a heart.” A baby depository? Is it any wonder there was a revolution? Twenty-four scans below for your enjoyment. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1955—James Dean Dies in Auto Accident
American actor James Dean, who appeared in the films Giant
, East of Eden
, and the iconic Rebel without a Cause
, dies in an auto accident
at age 24 when his Porsche 550 Spyder is hit head-on by a larger Ford coupe. The driver of the Ford had been trying to make a left turn across the rural highway U.S. Route 466 and never saw Dean's small sports car approaching.
1962—Chavez Founds UFW
Mexican-American farm worker César Chávez founds the United Farm Workers in California. His strikes, marches and boycotts eventually result in improved working conditions for manual farm laborers and today his birthday is celebrated as a holiday in eight U.S. states.
1916—Rockefeller Breaks the Billion Barrier
American industrialist John D. Rockefeller becomes America's first billionaire. His Standard Oil Company had gained near total control of the U.S. petroleum market until being broken up by anti-trust legislators in 1911. Afterward, Rockefeller used his fortune mainly for philanthropy, and had a major effect on medicine, education, and scientific research.
1941—Williams Bats .406
Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox finishes the Major League Baseball season with a batting average of .406. He is the last player to bat .400 or better in a season.
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