He's got one million reasons to keep his hands off the boss's girlfriend. But he's never been good with numbers.
The crime drama The Big Caper, which premiered today in 1957 and for which you see a promo poster above, was adapted from a 1955 novel by Lionel White. The movie is different from the book, which is something that usually happens, but the basics of White's tale remain. A career robber played by Rory Calhoun is sent to the town of San Felipe, California along with a crime kingpin's girlfriend played by Mary Costa to act as the advance team for a million dollar heist. Posing as a married couple, they're to spend a few months in town surveilling the local bank, gathering intel, and laying the groundwork for a team yet to arrive. In the course of playing house Calhoun and Costa fall for each other, putting the entire plan at risk. But that's only part of the problem. Matters are also complicated by the aforementioned heist team. One is a drunken pyromaniac, one is a woman-hating sadomasochist, and one is a womanizing bigmouth. All are played to the thinnest edge of believability by the actors in those roles. The movie never explains why the team is so flawed and self-destructive, and we can't remember the reason given in the book, if any. But if this is your crack squad it would probably be a good idea to abort mission. That doesn't happen, of course, so the question is only whether Calhoun and Costa can survive these psychos to ride off into the sunset together. All indications are no, but unliklier things have happened. For a b-movie The Big Caper is pretty good, providing enough tension to keep your interest, and enough visual style to please your eyes. It premiered today in 1957.
This absolutely sucks. Next time grandma needs a basket of food I'm telling her to order it from Uber Eats.
Have you heard the story of Little Red Riding with Hoods? It's a classic. Little Red Riding with Hoods leaves her cottage one day intent on buying a gift with a cashier's check. She crashes into a carload of bank robbers, and since their vehicle is now disabled, they steal hers—with her in it. They flee to their hideout, and thereafter are divided over what to do with Red. But the debate is short. They all know she's a witness and must be killed, which makes efforts by the cops a race against time. Crucially, they've lost some of that time because when the cops find out about the cashier's check they think Red has run away to start a new life. But they finally uncover a salesman who's owed for the gift Red ordered, and at that point realize she has indeed been kidnapped and probably doesn't have long to live. How does it all end? Well, we can tell you this—the book could have gone all sorts of places, but in 1957 when Lionel White published it, is there any doubt Red lives happily ever after? You sense it early and grow more certain with each page. But don't yell spoiler at us—Hostage for a Hood is still a good read, foregone conclusion and all.
She's going to get rich even if it costs everything you have.
Lionel White is a solid author, one we've enjoyed several times. In Marilyn K. he sets a challenge for himself. He takes the hoariest cliché—a stranded woman by the roadside with a suitcase—and runs with it as far and fast as he can. She's a mobster's girlfriend, the suitcase contains $350,000, she may have killed someone, she's possibly being chased by dangerous people, the hero should ditch her but she's a real sexpot, etc., etc. This is a film noir-style story in which the protagonist finds himself in deeper quicksand with each passing chapter. And as in film noir, he's moth-to-flame with a femme fatale who seems certain to destroy him. He needs to figure out if he's being set up, avoid murderous mobsters, try not to get arrested, and keep his dick in his pants long enough to have a good long think about all of the preceding. The last challenge is the hardest by far. In the end there's a twist—more of a switcheroo—that you'll see through immediately, after which the book resolves in suitably noir fashion. Despite some lapses this is a decent tale. But when White is on form, he's great. Marilyn K. is from 1960, and the cover art is by Harry Schaare.
Hear no evil, see no evil, and definitely report no evil to the cops.
As we continue our readings in vintage crime fiction, some authors emerge more than others as creators to specifically seek out. Lionel White has just moved from the “worth a read” category to the “trusted” category based on his 1956 thriller The House Next Door. Not only is this a good tale, but it's high concept, and told with style. The sprawling narrative deals with a pair of bank robbers who hole up in a suburban house to wait for the heat from their latest heist to dissipate. Late that night, after some heavy drinking, a neighbor loses his keys and is forced to climb in his side window. But it isn't his house. They all look similar, and he's new to the subdivision. He discovers he's in the wrong place only after turning on a light and finding a freshly murdered corpse—one of the bank robbers. He dives out a window just as he's about to be caught, later reports what he saw to the police, and for his efforts becomes the prime suspect in a completely different random murder. There's plenty more to the book, but in short White works with numerous characters, narrates from multiple points of view, juggles various plotlines, and weaves a tale that engrosses from beginning to end. Highly recommended.
Taxes are still unavoidable. But depending on weather and traffic, death sometimes doesn't show up at all.
Above, front and rear covers painted by Mitchell Hooks for Lionel White's 1957 novel Death and Taxes. We considered buying this, but we have so many books and magazines piled up now it's just stupid. Also we already have a couple of other White novels, so we'll get back to him later. Check out our write-up on his novel The Big Caper.
Nobody will suspect murder! You've told everyone you'd literally die if the Red Sox missed the playoffs!
Above, a September 1956 issue of Murder! magazine, which was the first issue ever published. It was put together by the same people who did Manhunt, was similar in content, with crime, procedural, and adventure tales, but lasted for only five issues. The action cover was painted by Frank Cozzarelli to illustrate Lionel White's “To Kill a Wife,” and it looks like the wife wins out definitively. Other contributors include Richard Deming, Carroll Mayers, Jack Ritchie, et al. And to Sox fans, better luck next year.
Rural heist goes way south.
The Big Caper by Lionel White is a bank robbery thriller written in multi-p.o.v. style, with more than a dozen characters ranging from compassionate to psychopathic all getting to describe the action. It's a good book. The crux of it is that a career bank robber sends his girlfriend and an associate to act as the advance team for the robbery. They go to the Florida town where the bank is located, set up as husband and wife, and spend six months gathering intelligence for the operation—from pacing out bank dimensions and vault location, to befriending local cops, uncovering data on important people and town operations, to renting a big house and hosting other members of the crew as they trickle into town. The boss has told his vanguard that their husband and wife act is just that—an act. Do they pay attention? No. And it's from there that complications begin to arise. The plot is carefully structured and the writing is a cut above the usual genre fare, but the ending is a bit pat. Still, it's basically a winner. Gold Medal published this edition in 1955 with cover art by Barye Phillips, and the book became a 1957 film of the same name starring Rory Calhoun and Mary Costa. We may check that out later.
The shape of bad things to come.
Above and below are assorted covers featuring yet another fun mid-century paperback art motif—the looming or threatening shadow. The covers are by the usual suspects—Rader, Phillips, Gross, Caroselli, Nik, as well as by artists whose work you see less often, such as Tony Carter’s brilliant cover for And Turned to Clay. That's actually a dust jacket, rather than a paperback front, but we couldn't leave it out. You’ll also notice French publishers really liked this theme. We’ll doubtless come across more, and as we do we’ll add to the collection. This is true of all our cover collections. For instance, our post featuring the Eiffel Tower has grown from fifteen to twenty-two examples, and our group of fronts with syringes has swelled from thirteen to twenty-six images. We have
twenty-four twenty-six—see what we mean?—more shadow covers below, and thanks to all original uploaders.
Mid-century paperback art and the race to judgment.
Science has given humanity a lot over the centuries. What will turn out to be one of its most important gifts is its conclusion, widely disseminated beginning in 1950 but by today firmly proven thanks to DNA sequencing, that race doesn’t exist in any scientific way. Of course, many don’t consider that fact a gift—but many people also had serious problems with the revelation that the Earth wasn’t flat. The concept of race comes entirely from the human imagination, and anti-black racism dates from within about the last five-hundred years, created principally as a means to justify the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Seen in that light, scientific proof that race doesn’t exist represents not new knowledge, but a return to knowledge that was the norm before the drive for riches caused men to deliberately warp human thought as a means to cover for mass cruelty.
As an imaginary construct, however, race is persistently powerful, which the collection of paperback fronts above and below strongly illustrate. We weren’t around when any of these were written, but their existence reveals a surprisingly (to us) lively market in such material. Were all the books you see here of great worth? Certainly not. But even with their flaws—particularly woman-blaming for rape—these books are artifacts of a fascinating racial dialogue that we suspect, on balance, was beneficial. We have fifty examples and there are at least a couple dozen more we didn’t include (Black Dicks for Marcie was just a bit too out there). Some of those pieces will pop up later in a slightly different themed collection. In addition to what you see here, we also put together a related group last year featuring an Asian theme and you can see that here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1958—Workers Assemble First Corvette
Workers at a Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan, assemble the first Corvette, a two-seater sports car that would become an American icon. The first completed production car rolls off the assembly line two days later, one of just 300 Corvettes made that year.
1950—U.S. Decides To Fight in Korea
After years of border tensions on the partitioned Korean peninsula, U.S. President Harry Truman orders U.S. air and sea forces to help the South Korean regime repel an invasion by the North. Soon the U.S. is embroiled in a war that lasts until 1953 and results in a million combat dead and at least two million civilian deaths, with no measurable gains for either side.
1936—First Helicopter Flight
In Berlin, Germany, in a sports stadium, Ewald Rohlfs takes the Focke-Wulf Fw 61 on its first flight. It is the first fully-controllable helicopter, featuring two counter rotating rotors mounted on the chassis of a training aircraft. Only two are ever produced, and neither survive today.
1963—John F. Kennedy Visits Berlin
22 months after East Germany erects the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement between East and West Berlin, John F. Kennedy visits West Berlin and speaks the famous words "Ich bin ein Berliner." Suggestions that Kennedy misspoke and in reality called himself a jelly donut are untrue.
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