James M. Cain spins a tale about an unusual love and an unusual life.
Vintage Ace paperbacks are considered highly collectible for a few reasons, including the fact that the company popularized the double novel. But we like Ace because it often did well with art. This front for James M. Cain's The Moth is about as striking as cover illustration gets. It's uncredited, but we know exactly who it is. It's Sandro Symeoni. How do we know? Because the cover at this link is confirmed to be Symeoni, and there's no doubt the artist is the same as above. Not only is the style a match, but so is the time period. This came in 1958, and Ace used Symeoni's art several times between ’58 and ’60. That makes this paperback a super discovery, because Symeoni, a brilliant Italian artist who specialized in movie posters, rarely painted book covers. It's possible that, as with Arthur Miller's Focus (you clicked the link above, right?) the art was borrowed from one of Symeoni's posters, but if so we don't know which one. Doesn't matter. Sandro kills again.
Moving on to the novel, Cain, one of the towering figures of pulp literature, stretches himself here to tell the life story of a man through his first thirty-five years, spanning the Great Depression, Prohibition, and World War II; his various jobs, schemes, and hustles; and his ups, downs, ups, downs, ups, downs, ups... We're not putting an end on that sentence in order to avoid giving a hint whether he ultimately triumphs or fails. For a time Cain's protagonist works in the oil business. For years he's a hobo riding the rails. For part of his life he's a renowned soprano. But no matter where he goes or what he does, there's a past destined to come full circle to stare him in the face. This is Cain's longest book, but it's pretty involving. Its only flaw—if it can be called that—is that is doesn't surprise. You know which untrustworthy friend will come back to haunt him, and which unlikely love will reappear to offer a chance at redemption. Still, a good read. We recommend it.
All Through the Night is Bogart at his best.
There's no single movie that made Humphrey Bogart a superstar—he built his brand with each outing. But surely All Through the Night was one of his most important pre-icon roles. You see its Italian promo poster above, which was painted by the great artist Luigi Martinati. We've featured Martinati often, and you can see his work here and here. After originally opening in the U.S. in 1942, All Through the Night premiered in Italy as Sesta colonna today in 1949. You can read more about the film here.
Gardner and MacMurray juggle love and danger in wartime Malaysia.
We talked about the 1947 war adventure Singapore in August. Here's a beautiful Italian poster for the film, on which co-star Ava Gardner takes front and center, with Fred MacMurray lurking in the background. There are several Italian promos. This one is by Zadro, who painted a number of other brilliant pieces, but about whom little is known today. We'll get back to him. And you can read more about the movie here.
With warmth and tender loving care you can grow anything.
Above are two photos of actress Monica Strebel, who was born in Switzerland but mostly appeared in Italian films. She also, like many actresses of her era, appeared in photo novels and posed nude in magazines, such as the French publication Io, which is where the above shots originated in 1969. Several of Strebel's films had amusingly unwieldy titles, among them 1970's La lunga notte dei disertori - I 7 di Marsa Matruh, aka Operation Over Run, and the 1971 giallo La bestia uccide a sangue freddo, aka Cold Blooded Beast. Perhaps her most notable role was in 1972's Racconti proibiti... di niente vestiti, aka Master of Love. We have a promo shot from it below. Strebel plays Death in the form of a naked woman, and she and star Rossano Brazzi run away together across an open field. They don't make 'em like that anymore.
*smack* *smooch* You're so beautiful. I'll follow you anywhere. What's your name again? Did you say Lady Death? That's weird but whatever... *nuzzle* *smooch*
What's really a shame is tomorrow he'll probably tell his buddies how great he was.
We're once again documenting the craze of mid-century publishers sensationalizing literary classics with racy cover art. Today's example is Shame, which is a translation of French icon Émile Zola's 1868 novel Madeleine Férat. It deals with a woman who loves her man but desires his best friend. That sounds exactly like freshman year of college to us, and in real life it was a total drag, but Zola made a literary masterpiece of it. He also achieved something no author would dream of today—he wrote twenty-one novels about two branches of a single family, tracing how environment and heredity were the overriding influences in their lives, even five generations onward, despite the various family members' desires or pretensions to individuality.
Madeleine Férat wasn't part of that epic cycle, and it isn't one of Zola's most celebrated works, though it was made into a 1920 silent film in Italy called Maddalena Ferat, directed by Roberto Roberti and Febo Mari, and starring Francesca Bertini. Ace Books saw it as a moneymaker not just once, but a second time, when it published it as a double novel with Thérèse Raquin on the flip. The pairing represents perhaps the high point of the paperback age in a way—two nineteenth century French literary classics being crammed as a double translation into an impulse purchase meant to tempt people in drugstores and bus stations. It's insanely funny. Also amusing is that Ace wasn't the only paperback publisher to give this book a makeover. But there's an unfunny aspect too—Ace didn't credit either of the cover artists. C'est dommage.
She's not quite as innocent as she looks.
This Japanese poster was made for Annie Belle's 1976 erotic romp La fine dell'innocenza, and it makes us wonder: Do erotic stars even exist anymore? We don't mean porn stars. We mean stars of erotic films. Have the reactionaries made them extinct, even on late night cable? Well, if so that's terribly sad, because if one believes cinematic sex and nudity are automatically exploitative (or worse, that all nudity in media derives from coercion), in our opinion that person has led a tragic or sheltered life. Sometimes such movies are exploitative, of course, but oftentimes they're life affirming and fun. Just like regular films, there's a range. La fine dell'innocenza, which was also titled simply Annie, falls somewhere in the middle. It has its exploitative elements, but ultimately is about Belle being far too rare and free a bird to be caged by small-minded men. Once upon a time, but not long ago, women struggled and protested and advocated in order to be free birds sexually, to express their sexuality in any way they saw fit after centuries of repression. La fine dell'innocenza is an artifact of that time period. We talked about it a few years ago, and you can read about it at this link.
Revenge is a dish best served with hot lead.
Above is a poster for the French-Italian western Une corde un Colt..., which in Italy was titled Cimitero senza croci and in English was known as Cemetery without Crosses. It premiered in France in January 1969, then opened in Italy today the same year. This falls into the spaghetti western category, with a mostly Italian crew shooting in Spain with actors from France, Spain, and Italy. But before we get too deep into the movie, we want to note that there's a brilliant title song performed by Scott Walker. If you don't know this musical legend, we highly suggest you familiarize yourself with his work. He was a genius who specialized in downbeat pop music that had a cinematic scope. We have all his albums, and they're all great.
The movie is a revenge tale in which French hottie Michèle Mercier seeks to punish the scoundrels who double-crossed and hanged her man. She appeals to her hubby's pal Robert Hossein—also the director and co-writer of this epic—who refuses until it becomes clear Mercier will take on the difficult task herself if she must. So Hossien agrees, and opts for the direct route to revenge by signing on with the enemy, then double-crossing the clan leader by kidnapping his daughter. This turns out to have unexpected consequences, but then that's the thing about revenge—it rarely goes as smoothly as hoped. Just ask Dick Powell. As westerns go, this one has all the required elements—rickety old frontier town, unshaven steely-eyed villains, frilly saloon girls, and so forth. The genre also tends to feature repetitive visual gimmicks, and in this one Hossein always slips on a single black glove when he's about to ventilate someone. He's sort of a reverse Michael Jackson that way, except when he puts on the glove it's everyone else who starts to walk backwards. Ultimately, we suppose Cimitero senza croci asks whether it's better to move on from injustice, or risk one's figurative soul by seeking to personally balance the cosmic scales. It's not quite an Eastwood calibre western, but then again how could it be? For fans of the genre it'll go down like a smooth barroom whisky.
Don't hate the Playa, hate the games.
Playa prohibida was a Mexican-Spanish co-production filmed on Mallorca, starring Rossana Podesta, that premiered in Mexico today in 1956 and reached Spain the next year, in March 1957. Above are the Mexican and Spanish posters, both quite nice we think. They're differentiated by the fact that one gives second billing to Carlos López Moctezuma, who was Mexican, while the other gives second and third billing to Spanish actors Fernando Rey and Alfredo Mayo.
Podesta plays a woman living in a beach town, and everyone thinks she's daft. When she's found on the beach standing over a corpse and looking guilty, the cops want to pin the crime on her, but a screenwriter passing through takes up the mystery and—with the help of his story construction skills—tries to figure out what happened. He narrates a significant part of the film, but other characters apply voiceover too, including the allegedly mad Podesta. The puzzle is eventually solved, and as you'd expect it's layered with jealousy, greed, betrayal, and all the usual games.
If you're thinking this sounds a bit familiar, that may because the setting bears some resemblance to Podesta's 1953 Mexican made thiller La red, in which she was also a somewhat enigmatic woman living in a small seaside community. We suppose when Mexican filmmakers thought "exotic beach beauty" Podesta came to mind, and why not? Just look at her. Her presence alone makes Playa prohibida worth a viewing, at least for us. And possibly for you too. For the moment—i.e. while the link lasts—you can watch it on YouTube and decide for yourself. Spanish required.
Always look your best for a crime spree.
Italian publishers Edizioni MA-GA strike again with another cover image by Franco Picchioni, this time for Jeff Kristopher's 1965 thriller 10 Lettere d'Amore. Kristopher is of course a pseudonym but we aren't able to discern for whom. We may have luck with that later, though. In any case, this is a cool image, and odd too, the way the fashionable femme fatale doesn't match her reflection. In the mirror she's leaning her head much farther to her right. We like that touch. But then we like everything Picchioni does.
Land ho! Shiver me timbers! Spring break ahoy! Pieces of eighteen year olds!
We've shown you many George Gross covers, all brilliant. This one is a little different for him. Morgan the Pirate was published by Dell in 1961 as a tie-in for the Italian adventure film Morgan il pirata, starring Steve Reeves, that indispensable icon of the sword and sandal era of the ’50s and ’60s. We haven't seen the movie, but this illustration has tempted us to queue it up. More than that, it makes us want to go raise hell somewhere. Actually, we had this one ready to go last year around this time when we had a trip planned, but we cancelled the travel and warehoused the image, figuring, okay, spring 2021. But the gag still doesn't really work, because there aren't any spring breaks (for careful people). But we don't want to sit on the cover another year, so here it is. Come on vaccinators, get to innoculating, so we can get to vacationating. Wooo! Shots! Shots! Shots!
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1971—First of the Pentagon Papers Are Published
The New York Times begins publication of the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret U.S. Department of Defense history of the country's political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The papers reveal that the U.S. had deliberately expanded its war with carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and Marine Corps attacks, and that four presidential administrations, from Truman to Johnson, had deliberately misled the public regarding their intentions toward Vietnam.
1978—Son of Sam Goes to Prison
David Berkowitz, the New York City serial killer known as Son of Sam, is sentenced to 365 years in prison for six killings. Berkowitz had acquired his nickname from letters addressed to the NYPD and columnist Jimmy Breslin. He is eventually caught when a chain of events beginning with a parking ticket leads to his car being searched and police discovering ammunition and maps of crime scenes.
1963—Buddhist Monk Immolates Himself
In South Vietnam, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death by dousing himself with gasoline and lighting a match. He does it to protest the persecution of Buddhists by Ngô Đình Diệm administration, choosing a busy Saigon intersection for his protest. An image of the monk being consumed by flames as he sits crosslegged on the pavement, shot by Malcolm Browne, wins a Pulitzer Prize and becomes one of the most shocking and recognizable photos ever published.
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