Calcutta is heavy on looks but light on substance.
We'll tell you right out that Calcutta came very close to being an excellent movie, but doesn't quite get over the hump. It deals with a trio of pilots flying cargo between India and China on fictional China International Airways. The trio, Alan Ladd, William Bendix, and John Whitney, stumble upon a highly profitable international smuggling ring and quickly find that the villains play for keeps. Along with the fliers, the film has Gail Russell as Whitney's girlfriend, and June Duprez as a slinky nightclub singer. While the exotic setting marks the film as an adventure, it also fits the brief as a film noir, particularly in Ladd's cynical and icy protagonist.
As we said, the movie isn't as good as it should be, but there are some positives. Foremost among them is Edith King as a wealthy jewel merchant. She smokes a fat cigar, the masculine affectation an unspoken but clear hint of her possible lesbianism, and with a sort of jocular grandiosity simply nails her part. Another big plus is the fact that the miniature work (used in airport scenes), elaborate sets and props, and costumed extras all make for a convincing Indian illusion—definitely needed when a movie is filmed entirely in California and Arizona (Yuma City and Tucson sometimes served as stand-ins for exotic Asian cities, for example Damascus in Humphrey Bogart's Sirocco).
On the negative side, Calcutta has two narrative problems: the head villain is immediately guessable; and Russell is asked to take on more than she can handle as an actress, particularly as the movie nears its climax. Another problem for some viewers, but not all, is that the movie has the usual issues of white-centered stories set in Asia (or Africa). However, within the fictional milieu the characters themselves seem pretty much color and culture blind, which isn't always the case with old films. Even so, the phalanxes of loyal Indian servants, and the dismissiveness with which they're treated—though that treatment is historically accurate—probably won't sit well with a portion of viewers.
Here's what to focus on: Alan Ladd. He's a great screen presence, a solid actor in the tight-lipped way you often see in period crime films, and the filmmakers were even smart enough to keep him shirtless and oiled for one scene. We swear we heard eight-decade-old sighs on the wind, or maybe that was the Pulp Intl. girlfriends. They'd never seen Ladd before, but immediately became interested in his other films. We were forced to tell them he was a shrimpy 5' 6” and they were a bit bummed. But he had it—and that's what counted. His it makes all his films watchable, but doesn't quite make this one a high ranker. Calcutta had its official world premiere in London today in 1946.
Will His Majesty be cleaning the bathroom today? Because His Majesty's wife will not.
We've spent some time in tropic countries, which makes it hard for us to resist books with tropical settings. The above, His Majesty O'Keefe, is amazingly obscure considering it was made into a 1954 film by Warner Bros. starring Burt Lancaster. What you get here is a fictionalized account of actual Irish American roustabout as David Dean O'Keefe, who in 1870 flees a murder charge in Georgia by sailing away to the other side of the world. He ends up on the island of Yap, then part of Spanish East India, today part of Micronesia, and establishes himself as a respected copra trader. Other South Seas books tend toward irony and tragedy, but here O'Keefe achieves amazing success. From Yap he expands his trade to other islands, and becomes known as the King of Yap, the Monarch of Mapia, and the Sovereign of Sonsorol.
In addition, he's an enlightened type. We don't know if that part is true, considering the book was written nearly a lifetime after the real O'Keefe's death, and considering the authors Lawrence Klingman and Gerald Green seem to have a bone to pick with Germans, who are portrayed as racist brutes. We can understand that. It was published only five years after World War II, but weren't all colonials racist brutes? We suspect O'Keefe is portrayed better than he really was in order to create contrast with the hated Germans. The real O'Keefe ran Confederate cargos through Union naval blockades during the U.S. Civil War, so how enlightened could he have been? But it's possible he was opportunistic more than he was political. Or the blockade busting could have been pure fabrication. O'Keefe said so when investigated in 1867, but then what would he say?
But whatever—we're talking about the book, and we'll take the respectful and equality-minded character here over the bigoted heroes that tend to dominate novels set around this period. We're still reeling over Slave Ship. We won't go into how Klingman and Green conclude their story. We'll just say the result is pretty entertaining. We suspect the movie version is g-rated by comparison, and for sure it will be a whitewash historically, but we're going to look for it and have a watch. It has Lancaster, after all, and he's one of the reliable indicators of quality in vintage cinema—he's no Bogart or Cary Grant, mind you, but his movies tend to be good. We'll report back. His Majesty O'Keefe was originally published in 1950, and this Universal Giant edition came in 1952 with cover art by Warren King.
To billions of people I'm a superstar but you have the nerve ask who I am? You are so dead.
Above, an awesome image of Indian actress Rekha—née Bhanurekha Ganesan—from her hit fantasy adventure film Nagin, which is the fantastic tale of a magical snake that takes human form in order to revenge-kill some hunters. Rekha wasn't the snake in the movie, but she looks ready to kill too. Obviously, the fact that she's a one-name star indicates her level of fame, and though that recognition never quite took hold outside Asia, several billion people recognize her as one of the cinematic greats. Our loss, their gain. Nagin premiered in India today in 1976, so this photo would have been made sometime in 1975.
Go ahead. Try putting yourself in her position.
Let's face it. None of us have toes strong enough to support our weight for longer than it takes to get the pancake syrup off a high kitchen shelf. Just looking at this photo causes us sympathetic pain. The image shows Sujata, who was an Indian dancer who rose to fame in golden age Bollywood before crossing the sea and appearing in numerous U.S. movies beginning in the early 1950s. In addition to her film work she toured the U.S. as half of the duo Sujata and Asoka, performing Indian, Tibetan, and other Eastern dances for amazed audiences. This shot is from the heyday of her touring period, when her toes were at their very strongest, probably around 1955.
Ursula the friendly witch.
Witches are supposed to be scary but Ursula Jeans didn't get the memo, seemingly, as she prepares to take her broom out for a spin while wearing a rather enticing nightgown. On the other hand, maybe the nightgown is just a lure and the basket is to transport your corpse once she kills you and crushes you like an egg carton. You never know when it comes to witches. Jeans was born in 1906 in British India and launched her showbiz career on the London stage in 1922. She naturally made the transition to cinema and her films include The Barton Mystery, Dark Journey, and The Weaker Sex. This shot is identified all over the internet as being from 1965, which would be amazing if true, because she'd be fifty-nine years old in it. So, barring the evil practice of black magic to stay young, and assuming Jeans' broom doesn't have a flux capacitor built into it, let's say this shot is actually from around 1935.
America's oldest tabloid continues its appointed rounds.
Today we have the cover and some interior scans from an October 1971 issue of the National Police Gazette, which dutifully explores its usual realms of sports, crime, and Hollywood. The magazine was founded in 1845, which is always astounding to consider. We bought a pile of these ages ago. In fact, they were the first bulk purchase of tabloids we ever made for the website. These ’70s issues of Gazette tend to be very cheap, but, as late stage editions, don't hold much intrigue, which is why we hadn't scanned one since 2014.
But we have to clear some space in our Pulp cave, so we scanned this one and immediately sailed it into the recycling bin. On the cover you have Samantha Marsh, and inside you get Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, Australian model Deanne Soutar, speculations on how old men can be and still have sex, hashish smugglers from India, and a story on the mysterious death of actress Thelma Todd. More from Police Gazette coming soon.
John Dillinger's body—most of it anyway—to be exhumed in September.
At the request of his family, Great Depression-era gangster John Dillinger will be exhumed from the Indianapolis grave where he was buried in 1934 after being shot down by FBI agents outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago. There's been no official explanation for the request, however the dig should resolve a couple of pieces of Dillinger folklore. The first would be whether it's him in the grave at all—an urban legend that the FBI shot the wrong man has simmered since his death. And the second would be whether there's a cock attached to the corpse—a particularly odd legend suggests that Dillinger had a monster member that was somehow snipped before burial and whisked away by a morbid collector.
The rumor of body part theft is no surprise. Grave robberies had been a problem in the U.S. throughout the 1800s, and while these had waned by 1934, as a precaution Dillinger was buried under scrap iron and slabs of concrete covered by a layer of poured cement. The bit about him being hung like a mule is harder to trace. Some say it was caused by a morgue photo which appeared (if you really used your imagination) to show him with an erection, but being the subject of at least one Tijuana bible certainly didn't hurt either. In the dirty comic “A Hasty Exit,” which we think was published in mid-1934 before his death, Dillinger uses a massive unit to pleasure his girlfriend Evelyn Frechette and her pal Nellie. Of course, everyone in Tijuana bibles had dinosaur dicks, but we're speculating here.
It's possible the public won't find out why Dillinger is being brought back above ground (though DNA testing to prove ancestry seems like a good bet), or whether all the famed gangster's parts are intact. We doubt most people actually care. But for us pulp followers the story is somewhat interesting, because Dillinger is an icon of the pulp era.
As a bonus, the story has also served as a reminder that we have many more filthy Tijuana bibles we need to upload. We'll get to that as soon as we can. In the meantime, while we all wait for that September exhumation to finally settle longstanding urban legends, you can satisfy your historical interest in John Dillinger by exhuming his Tijuana bible here.
Cheapie tabloid shows the way to enriched health.
Above is the cover and below are some interior scans from National Informer Reader, an offshoot of the tabloid National Informer. It hit newsstands today in 1971. Generally the publication featured photographed models on its cover, but we've run across a few like this one with illustrations. There's another one in the same vein inside the paper, and of course both are uncredited, though they look like the work of Alain Gourdon, aka Aslan. Needless to say, if these drawings are the work of the famed French illustrator, the editors of Informer Reader are unlikely to have paid for them.
The centerpiece of this issue is the spread on Swami Sarasvati, a famous yoga teacher who was born in India but moved to Australia and in 1969 became the host of a yoga television show that aired five mornings a week. Informer Reader shares her “sexercises,” but this turns out to be the editors' salacious take on things—the Swami is merely offering relaxation and better health. It's interesting, though, that she posed in a bikini. Clearly she wasn't so zen a little self promotional skin was out of the question. You'll notice her Siamese cat makes an appearance. There's a video online of the Swami being interviewed, which you can see here, and amusingly, the cat makes an appearance there too.
Elsewhere in the issue readers get another installment of “I Predict” by seer Mark Travis. Never timid, this time around he warns that the U.S. and Soviet Union will develop lightning weapons to blast each other, that a member of the British parliament will be revealed as a modern Jack the Ripper, and that a famous Hollywood producer will be exposed as a drug kingpin. As a prognosticator you only have to be right one in ten times to impress people, but Travis isn't even giving himself a chance with these crackpot predictions. We have more Readers to upload, so we'll see if his anemic percentage improves. Scans below.
Unwelcome messenger of God encounters major difficulties converting islanders.
It sounds exactly like a story from a 1950s men's adventure magazine, except this story is true. A Christian missionary decided he wanted to convert the tribespeople of remote North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean. The island had been declared off-limits years ago by the Indian government due to the inhabitants' occasionally violent reluctance to be contacted by outsiders, but the missionary, named John Chau, refused to be deterred.
He located a fishing boat and several fishermen, and on November 15 they clandestinely and illegally traveled to the island. Being knowledgeable locals, the fishermen wouldn't get too close, so Chau covered the final 500 meters in a canoe while the hirelings awaited his return. Later that day Chau returned indeed—in a big hurry after having had arrows shot at him. At this point we would have called it a day, and you too, no doubt. But that's why we aren't missionaries. We tend to give up. Chau didn't.
The next day, looking to build on his progress, he went back. This time the natives smashed his canoe—obviously considering this a significant hint as to their receptivity to Christian conversion. Chau, doubtless chagrinned, was forced to swim back to the fishingboat. But missionaries, as we noted, are persistent. So, driven by his duty to convert the islanders, he went back—amazingly—a third time. And how did that trip work out? According to the fishermen the last they saw of Chau the natives were dragging his corpse around the island.
Well. There's not much to say here. Who you feel is to blame in this scenario, if anyone, is a litmus test of your basic values. The fishermen have been arrested, but Chau's body hasn't been recovered yet due to obvious difficulties. The Indian government seems to want to let matters lie, but because Chau is American, the Sentinelese, as they've been dubbed, may yet pay a heavy price. One thing is certain—North Sentinel Island has dropped off our list of tropical paradises to visit. Now we're looking at maybe going to South Sentinel Island.
North Sentinel Island: stay away.
South Sentinel Island: worth a look.
I'm not usually a quitter! But right now! I'm considering! Going back! To delivering pizzas!
And speaking of trains, above you see the cover of Lawrence G. Blochman's novel of foreign intrigue Bombay Mail, a murder mystery set in India and staged on a Calcutta to Bombay mail train. The lead character isn't actually a postal worker, but rather an investigator, Leonidas Prike of the British C.I.D., also known as the Criminal Investigation Department. This was Blochman's debut, originally appearing in hardback in 1934, which was the same year another celebrated trainbound mystery—Murder on the Orient Express—was published.
About that copyright date, by the way. Nearly every place you look will have Bombay Mail listed as arriving in 1934, but it may have appeared, at least in limited form, in 1933. We deduced this because the movie Bombay Mail, which was based on the novel, premiered in the U.S. in January 1934. We have a hard time imagining a debut novelist selling his book to movies before it hit the stores, so 1933 might be the actual publication date. One thing we're sure about, though, is this Dell mapback edition arrived in 1943, and the art is by Robert Stanley.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Ted Williams Enlists
Baseball player Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox enlists in the United States Marine Corps, where he undergoes flight training and eventually serves as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. The years he lost to World War II (and later another year to the Korean War) considerably diminished his career baseball statistics, but even so, he is indisputably one of greatest players in the history of the sport.
1924—Leopold and Loeb Murder Bobby Franks
Two wealthy University of Chicago students named Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. murder 14-year-old Bobby Franks, motivated by no other reason than to prove their intellectual superiority by committing a perfect crime. But the duo are caught and sentenced to life in prison. Their crime becomes known as a "thrill killing", and their story later inspires various works of art, including the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, and Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film of the same name.
1916—Rockwell's First Post Cover Appears
The Saturday Evening Post publishes Norman Rockwell's painting "Boy with Baby Carriage", marking the first time his work appears on the cover of that magazine. Rockwell would go to paint many covers for the Post, becoming indelibly linked with the publication. During his long career Rockwell would eventually paint more than four thousand pieces, the vast majority of which are not on public display due to private ownership and destruction by fire.
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