The temperature goes up but everything else goes down hard in low budget action flick.
We're drawn by cool promo posters, but even though there's nothing special about the cheap-ass art for the 1976 blaxploitation flick Black Heat, we had to watch it anyway because we love low budget vintage cinema. It's like panning for gold. Usually you end up disappointed, but occasionally you find something shiny and nice. Black Heat stars Timothy Brown, who we last saw in an epic disaster called The Dynamite Brothers, aka Stud Brown, that probably should have ended his cinematic career. But here he is two years later still riding the blaxploitation wave. He plays Kicks Carter, an L.A. cop trying to get to the bottom of illegal activities at a fancy hotel, keep his partner's born loser girlfriend out of gambling trouble, and make time for romance on the side. Considering the bad luck Brown had with The Dynamite Brothers we'd love to tell you Black Heat is a major step up in his career. It isn't. It's terrible. The only spark is provided by co-star Tanya Boyd, who you may remember from her eye popping turn in Black Shampoo. Anything she's in, we'll gladly watch, because as far as heat is concerned her dial goes to eleven. But she about covers the positives here. Well, her and the fact that the movie features one of our favorite sights from ’70s cinema—the car that goes over a cliff with a dummy in the driver seat. It's a good metaphor for the film—basically driverless, destined to crash and burn. Black Heat premiered today in 1976.
This is what happens when you send a dancer to do a killer's job.
This is just ridiculous from Cyd Charisse. She has nowhere near proper shooting stance. Her base is totally off. She doesn't have her firearm properly braced. Where do you even start with this? She isn't going to hit anything. Luckily, she didn't have to rely on marksmanship to make a living. Instead, she danced and acted in numerous hit movies, including Singin' in the Rain, Brigadoon, and The Silencers. This image was made as a promo for her 1956 musical Meet Me in Las Vegas, which was a who's-who of musical talent, including Lena Horne, Liliane Montevecchi, Frankie Laine, the Four Aces, Sammy Davis, Jr., and others. Interestingly, it was also known as Viva Las Vegas, a decade before the Elvis movie. We can already picture Elvis fans raising an interjecting finger, but it's absolutely true. We explained it way back in 2011, and if you check out that write-up you'll also see Charisse in a slightly better shooting stance. She still won't hit anything. But at least she's on two feet.
It's not an arms race until there are fireworks.
Proving once again that people will buy anything, especially if it's cheap, above you see a postcard depicting the nuclear test Fox, which was conducted as part of Operation Ranger today in 1951. The operation comprised five tests, all in aerial bomb form, dropped and detonated over Frenchman Flat test site in Nevada. The postcard was manufactured by the Desert Supply Co. of Las Vegas, which makes sense because this is exactly what happens to your wallet if you go to Vegas.
Since the postcard image a a bit faded, below we have an actual shot of the test in all its insane crimson splendor. Only these devices have the ability to send civilization back to the stone age. Global warming, a pandemic, anything else you care to name, falls well short. And the nuclear arms race is ongoing, as several atomic powers are recklessly upgrading and expanding their arsenals. Want to see another interesting image of this event? Look here.
When men were men and Mamie was their obsession.
This is an unbeatable poster for Mamie Van Doren's crime thriller Girls Guns and Gangsters. The title is about as descriptive as they come. Van Doren is involved with a bunch of crooks who want to rob an armored car as it motors casino winnings from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. The plan is to shoot its tires—and anyone who gets in their way. While the caper is central, the plot is equally driven by everyone's sexual desire for Van Doren. Gerald Mohr in particular is constantly in her grill, and watching her fend off his persistent advances is squirm inducing. There's a fine line in old movies between desire and violence, so of course he crosses it by slapping her at one point, then trying twenty seconds later to kiss her. And the dude is really surprised to be rebuffed, like, “Huh?”
Put the blame on Mame? No, put the blame on men. They're all bad in this one. Van Doren's husband, Lee Van Cleef, is the worst of them. He breaks out of prison because she's asked him for a divorce. Everyone knows he'll kill anyone who even looks at Van Doren, which is problematic, considering gangster number three Grant Richards has been filling in for Van Cleef, so to speak, for quite a while. What a mess Van Doren is in. The robbery seems easy by comparison, but it wouldn't be a crime thriller if that went off without a hitch. Van Doren doesn't go off without a hitch either, because she isn't an expert actress and she sure as hell doesn't nail her singing numbers. But she's a great presence. That's enough to make an enjoyable movie. Girls Guns and Gangsters premiered in the U.S. this month in 1959.
Lee provides the style, Laffin provides the substance.
We're back to Horwitz Publications and its appropriation of Hollywood stars for its covers. If you haven't seen those they're all worth a look because of their usage of rare images. On the above cover from 1957's Hired To Kill, the face belongs to Belinda Lee, and as always the taste of Horwitz editors is impeccable. But Lee wasn't long for this world. She was just establishing herself as one of Britain's best exports when she became a road casualty during an ill-fated 1961 drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
Moving on to John Laffin, he was one of those authors whose brand was being a real-life adventurer. He was supposedly an ex-commando who was an expert with rifles, martial arts, and throwing knives, and who also spoke five languages. He'd visited thirty-two countries at the time of publication of this novel and was busy adding to the number, according to the rear cover text. And apparently he had been published in fourteen countries and five languages, which makes it a bit embarrassing we'd never heard of him.
We checked out his bibliography and sure enough, the guy wrote a pile of books. Many of them were war biographies and political analyses. He mainly focused on the British experience in World War I, but wrote everything from adventure fiction to an “expert”—i.e white guy's—analysis of the Arab mind. He sounds like an interesting fella, so we may look what's out there that we can acquire for a reasonable price and see what his fiction is like. If we do we'll report back.
Need a service animal? He's happy to do the job.
Harold W. McCauley is responsible for this simple but effective cover for 1961's Lover. His image captures the main character Johnny Wells' aura of unhappiness. Johnny is a young New York City hustler who decides to become an uptown gigolo. Starting with a few hundred dollars of ill-gotten gains, he transforms himself into a cultured, hotel-dwelling manhooker who services upper class women. While great at his job, his sexual misadventures take a toll. These include being spurned by a favorite customer who realizes she prefers women, being the unwilling centerpiece of an orgy, and more. The most curious bit is how Johnny's main love interest is a 14-year-old girl from around the way. Author Lawrence Block, hiding behind the Andrew Shaw pseudonym, makes no comment about how strange and possibly illegal this relationship is, and after a while you realize he never planned to. Block can write, so in general Lover reads smoothly, which is about the most you can hope for with this genre. Does that mean it's worth checking out? Well... we wouldn't go that far.
I told you to always stand on a hard 17, and never double down when they deal out death, but you don't listen.
Dealing Out Death is another paperback given to us by a friend. He bought it randomly years ago and passed it along to us when he visited from the States a while back. Of the books he gave us we'd have read this one first if we knew, one, that it had to do with the movie industry (where we once worked), and two, that it was so good. It was written by W.T. Ballard, published by Graphic Books in 1948, and deals with bigtime studio VP Bill Lennox, who tries to figure out who murdered star actress Renée Wilson's husband. Wilson is in Las Vegas to deal with a personal matter—her screw-up brother's desperate plea for money to get out from under a mob boss—but soon discovers that her brother's troubles and her husband's murder are connected to an impending turf war, one initiated by mobsters from the east who want to move in on the legitimate hotel owners. Lennox flies out from Hollywood to find the killer, save his star actress from both danger and bad publicity, and navigate the seething cauldron of Vegas without losing his cool or his life.
In mid-century crime fiction you find tough guys in unlikely places. The various authors, casting about for signature characters, made ass kickers out of insurance adjusters, chemists, charter fishermen, and more. Having known a few movie producers we can tell you they run the gamut. Being a producer generally means you merely have access to money or the ability to raise it, or you have access to a script or treatment and the mandate to shop it. You can get into such a position by working your way up the ladder, but if you come to the party with money already in pocket that buys your entrance. Thus producers in both the old days and today might be former organized crime guys, former drug dealers, and such. Think Chili Palmer in Get Shorty. So the fact that the studio exec hero in Dealing Out Death is so tough is unusual but not unrealistic. Ballard uses the character of Lennox to construct an engrossing plot, imbue it with a strong sense of place, and populate it with numerous competing personalities. He's a very confident writer and he gets the job done in Dealing Out Death briskly and skillfully. The ending is not perfect, but they rarely are. Recommended stuff.
Mess with the tiger and you get the claws.
Ever have a really bad idea? We all have. At Pulp. Intl. we have them several times a week. But sometimes a really bad idea turns into a really bad reality, and when the realization hits that trouble has manifested in the physical world and is about to land on you with all its weight, time slows to a crawl and there's a long moment inside your head when your inner voice goes, “Ohhhhh noooooo.” U.S. actress Marilyn Maxwell is experiencing that in the photo at top, which was published in an issue of Life magazine today in 1954. Just look at the close-up her face below. That's an oh-no face if ever there was one.
Why she made that face is a story exactly along the lines you'd expect from seeing the first photo. Maxwell was booked at the Last Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, where someone had the idea for her to perform with a tiger. The show was a flop because the tiger, whose name was Britches, refused to move. Turns out he had been fed sixteen pounds of horse meat earlier and wasn't feeling very spry. He'd been given the meal so he'd be tired, thus pliant, but it backfired—he was immobile. Note to Maxwell: when your co-star needs a wheelbarrow of raw meat to be safe enough to work with you're caught in the middle of a really bad idea.
The next day Life magazine wanted to stage a photo op—Maxwell was to swim with the tiger. But Britches didn't want to get in the pool. Maybe he was holding a grudge from being relentlessly poked and prodded the night before. Maybe he just didn't like pools. He was forcibly dragged into the water, at which point he thrashed and fretted—and clawed Maxwell on the foot. She actually escaped with only a minor gash, but Life played up the incident as though she'd almost died. And maybe in a sense the magazine was right. That same claw could have caught her in the face or eye and we'd be telling a totally different story today.
Below we have a couple more photos of Maxwell's pool misadventure, and we also have a few photos of poor Britches being dragged across the Last Frontier stage by his neck when all he wants to do is digest his horse. Britches, though blameless, could have ended up in serious trouble for his clawing of Maxwell, but he was considered valuable, which means he didn't end up a rug splayed in front of Hugh Hefner's fireplace. Instead he was relieved of his showbiz duties. Maxwell commented to the Hollywood press, “We’re sending him back to his compound in Thousand Oaks. He’s stealing the show.”
Forget it, Jake. It's Tinseltown.
We were poking around the architecture forum skyscraperpage.com and ran across this interesting photo of a billboard advertising the film Chinatown. This was located in Los Angeles at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Marmont Lane, and as you can see it touts the opening of the film today in 1974. We lived on the west side of L.A. for four years, and used to pass this spot occasionally. Marmont Lane winds to the right toward the famed Chateau Marmont Hotel, where luminaries such as Howard Hughes, Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean once made the scene, and a couple met their ends, including Helmut Newton and John Belushi.
We knew the intersection was one of the city's most important billboard spots and wondered what else had been advertised there. So we had a look. We expected to find an assortment of examples, but it turns out the locale was so coveted a relative few companies monopolized it. The first was the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, which erected a sign there in 1957, complete with a rotating showgirl and an illuminated marquee listing the headlining acts.
The sheer novelty of the sign helped establish the heavily trafficked intersection as one of L.A.'s go-to spots for promotion, and the sign itself became a landmark. In fact, in 1961 Jayne Mansfield unveiled a Rocky and Bullwinkle statue across the street that was inspired by the Sahara showgirl. It was commissioned by Jay Ward, producer of the television series Rocky and His Friends, for the opening of his office complex.
After the Sahara moved on in 1966 the location was divided into two-tiered advertising. For almost three decades the iconic Marlboro Man towered above the intersection on the higher billboard, first on a horse, and later sans mount. During the time Chinatown was advertised Mr. Marlboro was standing vigil above. The lower location hosted ads for Stroh's and numerous other products, but was a particularly popular home for movie billboards. We found shots of billboards for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Black Sunday, and other popular films of the 1970s.
Tens of thousands of billboards dot the Los Angeles landscape, especially around Hollywood. An uptick of political billboards has some Angelenos considering whether these objects are more akin to visual pollution. They're already illegal in entire U.S. states, including Hawaii and Maine. We always thought they further cluttered an already chaotic landscape, but we imagine they will survive in Los Angeles longer than almost anywhere else in the U.S. Tinseltown is a place where you don't get people's attention unless you scream for it. Nothing screams better than a well placed billboard.
There's no doubting Thomas.
Burlesque dancer Jeannie Thomas worked mostly in Las Vegas and adopted the persona Princess Little Branch, aka the Goddess of Fire, complete with full Native American regalia, as you see above. There's basically no information out there about her beyond what we've just provided. She claimed to be half Cherokee, but of course Native American ancestry is claimed by many but provable by few. We'll take her at her word, though. Year on the photos? Best guess—1965.
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