Certain breeds of insects are going extinct, according to scientists. We didn't need their help to figure that out.
Above is an alternate cover for James M. Cain's racy 1947 novel The Butterfly. The edition we showed you previously (paired with a short write-up of the disastrous movie starring Pia Zadora) was from Dell, with art by Frank McCarthy. This one came from Signet in 1955, and it's really hard to find. By far it's the rarest of any of Cain's Butterfly editions. But it's worth seeking out because the cover is great. It's uncredited, though. See the previous cover here.
In my experience the ones who think I'm sinful are always the ones I won't let join the fun.
Above is a brilliant cover for James M. Cain's Sinful Woman painted by Barye Phillips, early work from him, and among his best. This was published by Avon in 1947, and though it isn't hard to find it's dear to purchase. The story involves a famous actress who goes to Reno for a quickie divorce from her movie producer husband. When she runs into problems she charms the local sheriff—a big fan of her work—into helping out, but must deal with increasing complications. Most agree Sinful Woman isn't Cain's best, but from a purely literary perspective he's a better writer than most, even in lesser efforts. It's well worth a read.
The eyes have it in for you.
Above, a beautiful promo poster for the film noir Mildred Pierce made for the film's run in France, which began today in 1947, more than a year after its U.S. premiere. This is pure awesomeness from artist Roger Rojac. Note that it touts Joan Crawford's Academy Award triumph, her win as best actress. It was also nominated for best picture but beaten by Lost Weekend, which is these days considered a bit of a cheeseball classic. We have our earlier write-up on Mildred Pierce here, and a nice promo image for the film at this link.
There's no way to avoid paying what's owed.
We just talked about the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, so why not take a moment to focus on the movie, since it premiered today in 1946? Even if it weren't a widely known classic of lust and murder, when John Garfield fetches up at a rural gas station and sees a sign that reads “man wanted,” you suspect where the movie is going. Such a sign, if posted by Nick, the owner, could say “help wanted” or “job available,” but as worded it cleverly establishes the subtext that it's his platinum blonde wife Lana Turner that really wants a man. Garfield and Turner's mutual attraction is immediate and obsessive. The affair starts shortly thereafter, leads to a failed scheme to run off together, then finally devolves into a murder plot. But murder in film noir is never easy. Character-wise, some edges were rounded off James M. Cain's novel, which was a good decision—those two lovers are throughly reprehensible; Garfield and Turner at least generate some sympathy. But not too much—murderers are murderers and just desserts are just for a reason. Highly recommended flick.
Once you open the package there's no returning the contents.
There are numerous vintage editions of James M. Cain's classic thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice out there, including one from the Spanish publisher Bruguera that we showed you years ago, but we recently got our hands on this 1947 Pocket Books edition, with a cover by Tom Dunn. We read the book, and there are several interesting aspects to the novel, including frightening violence, a generally amoral view of the world, and this:
I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers...
“Bite me! Bite me!”
I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.
Obsessive lust. We get it. Still, it's bizarre. Then there's this:
"Well, get this. I'm just as white as you are, see? I may have dark hair and look a little [Mexican], but I'm just as white as you are."
It was being married to that Greek that made her feel she wasn't white.
Caustic racism. Later the femme fatale, Cora, explains that she simply cannot tolerate having a child with the aforementioned husband, who she married for security. “I can't have no greasy Greek child, Frank. I can't, that's all.” Cain establishes with this style of banter that his two main characters are bad people. But The Postman Always Rings Twice is great, and nobody ever said literature is supposed to be easy to read. This is fast-paced pulp fiction that's about as good as you'll ever find. Highly recommended.
Spare the rod, spoil the child.
We ran across this West German poster for Solange ein herz schlaegt, aka Mildred Pierce, and realized we had a substantial gap in our film noir résumé. So we watched the movie, and what struck us about it immediately is that it opens with a shooting. Not a lead-in to a shooting, but the shooting itself—fade in, bang bang, guy falls dead. These days most thrillers bludgeon audiences with big openings like that, but back in the day such action beats typically came mid- and late-film. So we were surprised by that. What we weren't surprised by was that Mildred Pierce is good. It's based on a James M. Cain novel, is directed by Michael Curtiz, and is headlined by Joan Crawford. These were top talents in writing, directing, and acting, which means the acclaim associated with the movie is deserved.
While Mildred Pierce is a mystery thriller it's also a family drama revolving around a twice-married woman's dysfunctional relationship with her gold-digging elder daughter, whose desperation to escape her working class roots leads her to make some very bad decisions. Her mother, trying to make her daughter happy, makes even worse decisions. The movie isn't perfect—for one, the daughter's feverish obsession with money seems extreme considering family financial circumstances continuously improve; and as in many movies of the period, the only black character is used as cringingly unkind comic relief. But those blemishes aside, this one is enjoyable, even if the central mystery isn't really much of a mystery. Solange ein herz schlaegt, aka Mildred Pierce opened in West Germany today in 1950.
Nothing a little dying won't fix.
Narrated from the deck of a boat floating on the crystalline Caribbean, The Root of His Evil is the tale of a money-hungry femme fatale who rises from greasy spoon waitress to NYC union organizer to wealthy woman, all by age twenty-four. James M. Cain originally wrote this tale way back in 1938 as “The Modern Cinderella,” and immediately sold it to Hollywood, where it spawned the 1939 movie When Tomorrow Comes. He ended up suing for copyright infringement when the filmmakers borrowed a scene from another of his novels without paying for it. You can read details of that incident here if you're inclined. Some Cain fans love The Root of His Evil; the more prevalent opinion is that it isn't among his best. We'll say this much—there's no focus on crime here, just on questionable deeds. But we like the cover of this Avon paperback. It's less sophisticated than some good girl art, but strikes the right tone. It appeared in 1952 and is uncredited.
They call it the Devil’s wheel for a reason.
It’s been a while since we’ve put together a pulp collection, so below you’ll find vintage cover art that uses the roulette wheel as a central element. They say only suckers play roulette, and that’s especially true in pulp, where even if you win, eventually you lose the money and more. Art is by Ernest Chiriaka, Robert Bonfils, Robert McGinnis, and many others.
James M. Cain explores the making of a femme fatale.
Years back there was a line in The Saturday Review of Literature that famously declared, “No one has ever stopped reading in the middle of one of Jim Cain’s books.” Well, we almost stopped reading Cain's newly published posthumous novel The Cocktail Waitress. The protagonist, divorcée Joan Medford, is forced to get a job as a bar server after her husband dies in an auto accident. As the cover art by Michael Koelsch depicts, the job requires her to show a lot of skin. She hates it, but soon learns it provides opportunities with the various regulars. The main thrust of the novel involves a basically good woman deciding to use any means at her disposal to wrest her child back from a predatory relative. To the old man she wants to marry for money (and to impress child custody authorities) she's a femme fatale. To the cop who knows she's fighting to win back her child she's a brave mother. To the young man who's spurned in favor of the rich man she's psychological torture.
Her multifaceted nature is interesting, but would work better if Cain spent less time inside her head. But that's where he lives for the entirety of the book, mansplaining his way in circles. You'd know the character was written by a man even if the book were anonymous. We don't claim to know how women think, but we know they don't think like this. Cain wrote many drafts of The Cocktail Waitress—which may be an indication he knew he was in over his head. But for all the issues with the book, we think it's a win—narrowly. And the ending, with its twist that may be lost on readers unless they remember Thalidomide, is Cain at his nasty best. Posthumous novels are rarely great, and authors with long careers are rarely as good at the end as at the beginning or middle. The Cocktail Waitress is both posthumous Cain and late Cain, so we can say without too much fear of contradiction that he's done much better. But Cain fans, we expect, will love this one anyway.
Black Lizard’s pulp anthology is as thick as an old phone book, but we’ll get through it somehow.
Stay away from the U.S. long enough and when you go back you get really good gifts. The Big Book of Pulps, above, was a belated birthday present—and what a present it is. At over 1,000 pages, this is probably the most comprehensive pulp anthology we’ve ever seen. Published in 2007 by the now defunct pulp revival specialists Black Lizard, the collection contains stories from Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner, James M. Cain, Paul Cain and many others, and is even sprinkled with some ink illustrations. We’ll be working our way through this tome for the next couple of years, no doubt. Which means we should finish just in time to go back to the States again and get another great gift. Thanks Neil S.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1916—First Battle of the Somme Ends
In France, British Expeditionary Force commander Douglas Haig calls off a battle against entrenched German troops which had begun on July 1, 1916. Known as the Battle of the Somme, this action resulted in one of the greatest losses of life in modern history—over three-hundred thousand dead for a net gain of about seven miles of land.
1978—Jonestown Cult Commits Mass Suicide
In the South American country of Guyana, Jim Jones leads his Peoples Temple cult in a mass suicide that claims 918 lives, including over 270 children. Congressman Leo J. Ryan, who had been visiting the makeshift cult complex known as Jonestown to investigate claims of abuse, is shot by members of the Peoples Temple as he tries to escape from a nearby airfield with several cult members who asked for his protection.
1973—Nixon Proclaims His Innocence
While in Orlando, Florida, U.S. President Richard Nixon tells four-hundred Associated Press managing editors, "I am not a crook." The false statement comes to symbolize Nixon's presidency when facts are uncovered that prove he is, indeed, a crook.
1938—Lysergic Acid Diethylamide Created
In Basel, Switzerland, at the Sandoz Laboratories, chemist Albert Hofmann creates the psychedelic compound Lysergic acid diethylamide, aka LSD, from a grain fungus.
1945—German Scientists Secretly Brought to U.S.
In a secret program codenamed Operation Paperclip, the United States Army admits 88 German scientists and engineers into the U.S. to help with the development of rocket technology. President Harry Truman ordered that Paperclip exclude members of the Nazi party, but in practice many Nazis who had been officially classified as dangerous were also brought to the U.S. after their backgrounds were whitewashed by Army officials.
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