The artist is almost as mysterious as his posters.
You can see immediately that this Universal Pictures teaser poster for 1933's The Invisible Man is special. You'll find out how special in a minute. It was painted by Hungarian born artist Karoly Grosz, whose work is highly sought after. With this dark portrait he captured the essence of the film's insane central character Dr. Jack Griffin, who accidentally discovers invisibility and decides, what the hell, he'll use it to take over the world. An original of this poster went up for auction a few years back and pulled in $275,000. That's about as special as vintage art gets.
Halloween is today, so we thought we'd share more horror posters. Since Grosz specialized in that genre, we were able to focus solely on him and his work for Universal. Though he's a collectible legend, his bio is a bit sketchy. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1901 as a child, was naturalized as a citizen, and grew up to live and work in New York City. His output came mainly between 1920 and 1938, and he died young sometime after that (nobody is sure when, but most sources say he was in his early forties). At least he left behind these beautiful gifts to cinematic art. You can see another piece from him in this post from a while back, the one with the green-eyed cat.
Don't mess with the man upstairs.
Stranger on the Third Floor is sometimes cited as a proto film noir, coming a year before the first official noir, 1941's The Maltese Falcon. In this day and age, any vintage crime film is called a film noir on crowdsourced websites like IMDB, so depending on where you look film noir isn't as pure a cycle as it used to be. But in this case the debate is fair. The film is about newspaper journalist John McGuire, who serves as a witness at a sensational murder trial, while his fiancée Margaret Tallichet frets about the impact of recognition on their lives. The two of them are planning to move out of their boarding houses and find a place together, but McGuire's building has lately been haunted by a mysterious stranger played by Hungarian actor Peter Lorre. Who is he? Why is he hanging around? Is he somehow connected to the murder?
Gene D. Phillips, in his book Out of the Shadows: Expanding the Canon of Film Noir, cites Stranger on the Third Floor as a film that “codified the visual conventions of film noir.” It has flashbacks, a brilliant nightmare sequence, a sense of growing dread, a false accusation (or possibly two), a narration (though not of the hard-boiled variety), and a usage of angles and shadows that is extravagant. Where it differs from film noir is in its general lack of cynicism and world weariness. In fact, it's the opposite. McGuire ponders whether doing his civic duty by testifying will have consequences, but at no point does he feel like a sucker for doing so. He believes in society and its basic functions. The Maltese Falcon, by contrast, offers civic duty as an option, but Sam Spade acts as he does because of his personal code. Duty is secondary, and ultimately, so is love.
Despite these differences between Stranger on the Third Floor and canonical film noir, casting the net wide enough to include this movie makes sense. It definitely gets its influences from the same places as film noir, particularly in German Expressionist cinema of the early 1900s. Interestingly, Lorre would feature prominently in The Maltese Falcon, as would Elisha Cook, Jr., who plays the defendant at the trial. So the connection between Stranger on the Third Floor and film noir is concrete on that level at least. All that said, does our opinion matter? Watch Stranger on the Third Floor and debate whether it's a film noir yourself. You'll see a visual masterwork regardless of which cinematic bin you stick it in. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1940.
Sun, sand, and an unusually high homicide rate.
Of all the covers we've posted on Pulp Intl., these two—the first from U.S. publisher Dell, and the second from British publisher Consul—are among the most interesting. Both illustrate books called Murder in Majorca, both feature a female figure partly obscured by foreground blinds, and both have in the background the lower legs of a man walking into the room. But Michael Bryan and Paul Tabori are different authors, and these are different tales. Is that not weird as hell? We've always wanted to read these books because Majorca, aka Mallorca, is one of the great garden spots on Earth. We've been several times and it always recalibrates us perfectly. Also, there isn't much murder there, despite the titles of these books, which is a nice add-on to the sun, sand, food, bars, architecture and beautiful people.
Michael Bryan was in reality Brian Moore, and also wrote as Bernard Mara. His Murder in Majorca appeared in 1957. Paul Tabori was in reality Hungarian author Pál Tábori, and his Murder in Majorca came in 1961. How did these two uncredited covers get to be virtually identical? No idea. Sometimes when a book was reprinted overseas a second artist was commissioned to do a riff on the original cover, such as here. So maybe the second piece was for a re-issue, but it fell through, and the art was lying around when Tabori wrote his book. That's a wild-ass guess that has very little chance of being correct, but we just know these two fronts can't be similar by coincidence, so that's all we've got by way of explanation. Maybe you have a better deduction, or even the facts. If so, we'd love to know.
We decided our immigration procedures weren't cruel enough, so we've made a few changes.
Robert Stanley does his usual expert job on the cover action and Robert Parker—not Robert B. Parker, but a different author who wrote only three novels—provides the narrative for Passport to Peril. The art here depicts the impending torture of a character named Countess Orlovska, and things get pretty uncomfortable for her. They get even worse for the protagonist John Stoddard. He'd merely intended to travel from A to B for personal reasons. Instead he gets tangled up in espionage when he purchases a false passport he assumes bears a made-up identity, but which actually belonged to a missing-presumed-dead spy. The spy's associates soon come calling. Considering the increased focus on immigration in many western nations, we saw this not only as a spy story but also as a saga about a privileged westerner ironically caught in a migratory wringer. Set in Budapest with all the Cold War intrigue the background suggests, this is pretty entertaining stuff from Parker. It originally appeared in 1951, with this Dell edition coming in 1952.
A textbook case of pianist envy leads to serious trouble.
This poster was made for Strange Fascination, a film put together by triple threat Hugo Haas, who wrote the screenplay, directed, and starred. It premiered this month in 1952. Plotwise a rich widow traveling in Europe meets a brilliant pianist who wants to leave the continent to get away from its “recent misfortunes.” She sponsors him and brings him to New York City, where he has immediate success, but his head is soon turned by platinum blonde showgirl Cleo Moore. She's got show business ambitions but no avenues, so she hitches herself to the rising pianist and proceeds to make his career go limp.
Hugo Haas headlined scores of movies and accumulated more than forty credits directing and writing, so Strange Fascination was no vanity project. In fact we suspect it was uniquely important to him because of its autobiographical elements. For instance, like the pianist he plays Haas left eastern Europe—Brno, Austria-Hungary, which is now part of the Czech Republic—and became respected in his chosen industry. And his given name was Pavel Haas, while his lead character here is named Paul, the Anglicization of Pavel.
In Strange Fascination Haas crafted a solid movie but don't let the online reviews fool you—it isn't film noir. These days any movie that's mid-century, black and white, and dramatic gets the noir stamp on crowd sourced websites like IMDB and Wikipedia. Strange Fascination contains bits of noir iconography, but films of the period have no choice about that—after all, rain falls even in musicals and neon signs occur even in comedies. Strange Fascination is really a straight melodrama. Go into this little b-movie with that expectation and it may prove satisfying.
So when I sign this I'm giving you permission to turn my life into an unrelenting hell?
The statue was for the public. The photos were strictly private.
Hungarian artist Sepy Dobronyi puts the finsihing touches on what was for a while possibly the most famous statue in the world—his stylized sculpture of Swedish sex bomb Anita Ekberg. Dobronyi made it by using nude reference photos he'd shot of his subject, and it was those photos, more than the statue, that interested the public. Ekberg was one of the world's biggest stars at the time and the idea that nude shots existed was flogged by the tabloids and helped burnish Dobronyi's reputation as a sort of jetsetting artist. His depiction of her became known as the Ekberg Bronze. He went on to sculpt Brigitte Bardot, Ava Gardner, Beverly Aadland, and Jayne Mansfield, though as far as we know no nude photographs were involved in those efforts.
Dobronyi sold and collected many works and used his fame and fortune to become a traveller and adventurer, visiting nearly ninety countries and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Actually, he's probably worthy of a book or movie at some point, but then so are dozens of nearly forgotten Hollywood figures. He died in 2010 and as far as we know his Ekberg reference nudes never turned up, though we imagine they'd be worth plenty. But Dobronyi was a gentleman—other Ekberg nudes appeared over the years but he never revealed his and may have destroyed them at some point. We talked a bit about the Ekberg Bronze previously, which means you can learn a few more details of the story by clicking this link.
The thrill of the Chasse.
This promo poster from Colombia Pictures was made to promote the Belgian run of the film noir Chasse à l'homme, better known as The Glass Wall. This is an interesting one. Starring Vittorio Gassman and Gloria Grahame, the movie is set at the end of World War II and tells the story of a Hungarian refugee who arrives in New York harbor as a stowaway on a ship. Onboard immigration cops catch him, but he eludes them and jumps ship to search for a war buddy who can prove he has the right to legal residency under a special exemption for those who aided Allied soldiers. He must find this friend who can prove his bona fides, and do it within twenty four hours or be permanently barred from the U.S. A photo in the morning paper alerts the public and Chasse à l'homme becomes a double manhunt—the hero's search for his buddy, and the cops' search for the hero. The film is obviously a piece of light propaganda concerning the desirability of life in the U.S., but as a noir it also shows a darker side to American society, such as when Gloria Grahame is under threat of eviction, and when the landlady's son tries to force himself on her. Gassman was an experienced actor by this point, and Grahame, as noted on the poster, had already won an Academy Award for The Bad and the Beautiful. Both do solid work here. The movie opened in the U.S. in March of 1953 and reached Brussels, Belgium today in 1954.
Anita Ekberg bares all for art.
Anita Ekberg graces the cover of this February 1957 issue of Sir! magazine, laid back, colorized, and looking good. She gets in depth treatment inside, with a focus on a nude statue of her made by Hungarian sculptor Sepy Dobronyi. The story was perfect for Hollywood gossip rags, and accordingly they all reported breathlessly that Dobronyi wanted to make the statue a nude, and since he was headed back to his studio in Cuba and couldn't have Ekberg sit for him, took a series of nude reference photos. Dobronyi was a scuba diver in his spare time and had collected gold coins from sunken Spanish galleons to use in his art, some of which he applied to Ekberg's likeness, leading to this boob-related witticism from Sir! editors: “Anita's statue has a real honest-to-goodness treasure chest.” The sculpture was mostly bronze, though, and became known as the Ekberg Bronze, which when last seen was in a Norwegian museum, though Ekberg was actually Swedish.
Elsewhere in Sir! you get the short feature, “A Homo Speaks Out.” The title alone. Really. The author, working in confessional form, admits to deep feelings of regret, shame, self-loathing, and so forth at his “condition”—basically writing everything mid-century homophobes would have wanted to read. It ain't pretty, so we won't transcribe any of it. Readers also learn about marriage rites on the Pacific islands of New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), where tribal ceremonies involve all the male members of the groom's family having first crack at the bride. Is that true? We have no idea, and really aren't inclined to find out. To each culture their own, we say—as Americans, we come from the weirdest one on the planet. Other stories deal with Elvis Presley, burlesque, and prostitution. While Sir! wasn't one of the top mid-century tabs, it outdid itself with the Ekberg cover alone, which we consider one of the most eye-catching images of her we've seen.
So I found these awesome leopardskin drapes on sale. What do you think? Too much?
The incomparable Marilyn Monroe, wearing see-though lingerie, stars on the above Technicolor lithograph titled “Vivacious Marilyn.” The image was originally shot by acclaimed Hungarian lensman Laszlo Willinger in 1947. Most sources say 1949, but we can confirm 1947 because we've seen another frame from this leopard series used on a 1947 Sunoco calendar. However, the above lithograph wasn't printed until 1955, when the negative fell into the hands of the good people at A. Scheer Co. and they said, “She's sheer! We're Scheer! It's a match made in heaven!” A. Scheer made another print of one of Willinger's other famed Monroe images which we'll show you a bit later. In the meantime, we offer the bonus image of Monroe on the phone for no reason at all. You can see more lithos of Hollywood's greatest star wearing assorted bits of almost nothing here.
If you're going to be a movie star you better look the part.
Above, a beautiful Technicolor lithograph of Hungarian actress Zsa Zsa Gabor clad in two of her favorite luxe accessories—fur and jewels. Gabor once said, “Don’t ever buy imitation furs, because that’s worse than death.” Times change, of course. The photo is entitled simply “Movie Star,” and she perfectly personifies the 1950's version of that concept here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
1954—Joseph McCarthy Disciplined by Senate
In the United States, after standing idly by during years of communist witch hunts in Hollywood and beyond, the U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for conduct bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. The vote ruined McCarthy's career.
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
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