Vintage Pulp Apr 12 2023
Meet the new fascists, same as the old fascists.

Above is a blazingly colorful poster for Violence, starring Nancy Coleman and Sheldon Leonard, a curious little b-flick about Coleman's reporter character inflitrating a Los Angeles based fascist organization that calls itself United Defenders. The group is a fraud, run by man named True Dawson who uses incendiary populist rhetoric to sign up military veterans, while the organization exploits those same veterans by using their membership dues for secret aims. Coleman has gathered some damning evidence, but when she's tailed by fascist thugs her cab crashes, all her evidence burns up, and she comes out of the fiery accident with amnesia.

To compound the major complication that Coleman has now forgotten she's an undercover operative, United Defender member Michael O'Shea shows up in the hospital the next day and convinces her that he's her fiancée. Yipes. We should mention here that part of Coleman's clandestine work has involved romancing United Defenders' oily number two man Sheldon Leonard, but because the movie was made during the 1940s the directions that sticky subplot could go—esentially she's been passed from one man to another—never really materialize. Maybe it's better that way.

Once out of the hospital Coleman is turned into a spokesperson for United Defenders, but her bruised psyche doesn't take to it smoothly. She faints during a speech and is generally out of sorts. Meanwhile the wheels keep turning. The fascists cultivate dark money—literally dark, as a character promising a boatload of new capital appears only in shadows. It's clear by this point that the purpose of the group is to amass wealth and power. The vets are just window dressing, occasionally to be used as shock troops. Asked how he plans to control these dupes, True Dawson encapsulates his amoral aims with this: “We get 'em young and tough, the kind that's already wearing a chip on its shoulder. And then we'll prime them for the payoff. We'll prime 'em with hate. Hate for labor. Hate for management. Hate for the party that's in. Hate for the party that's out. We'll keep 'em so busy they won't have any time to [uncover the truth].”

Objectively, Violence is cheesy. Hell, even the poster is sort of cheesy, with Coleman, O'Shea, and Leonard looking more like an alternate Three Stooges than intrepid political operatives. But certain aspects of the movie are uncomfortably close to reality: the patriotic rhetoric relied upon by Dawson and his fascist lackeys, the exhortations to manhood designed to inflame the membership, the vocal support for workers while the group's actual aims are pro-corporate, and the harangues about what real America is supposed to be. Overall the movie is too b-level to compare to predictive masterpieces like 1976's Network, but it has its disconcerting flashes of insight just the same.

Obviously, Coleman has to get her memory back at some point, and to make that happen the movie relies upon the old screenwriting chestnut that a second blow on the head can fix amnesia brought on by a first. That second blow comes when Leonard accuses her of being a spy and slaps her around. The first slap is accompanied by the sound of a cymbal crash. Better than a glockenspiel, we guess. Another symphonic slap or two and Coleman goes down hard. When she awakens, her memory is restored and United Defenders again have a spy in their midst. Even so, you figure these badass fascists should be able to handle one nosy reporter.

We'll stop there to avoid more spoilers, but there's one additional minor plot twist we will divulge. Coleman never finds out who the dark money guy is. It seems like a nod to the fact that the string pullers, those corporate quasi-humans with evil aims, are rarely exposed, and certainly never punished. It's a point we liked, but in the end we can't call Violence a good movie—it's too cheap, too shallow, and ultimately minimizes its subject matter. But those few moments when its dialogue sounds like it came directly from 2023 politicians or cable news mouthpieces are highly, highly interesting. Maybe they even make the movie worth watching. Violence premiered today in 1947.


Vintage Pulp May 1 2022
Who do you think you're calling a lady?

We had to watch this one. Lady of Burlesque is an adaptation of Gypsy Rose Lee's 1941 murder mystery The G-String Murders, which we talked about not long ago, describing it as a must-read due to its commingling of burlesque and murder. The movie sticks to much the same course as the book. Murder takes place backstage at a burlesque house and the dancers get together to try and solve the crime. Barbara Stanwyck is thirty-six here and showing excellent abs playing a rising stage star calling herself Dixie Daisy. She gets a solo dance that omits the bold bumps and hipshaking of true burlesque, but it's still a nice number.

The chief problem with Lee's novel is its clunky focus on backstage patter instead of the murder mystery. The movie solves that problem—not by focusing more on the mystery, but by bringing the entertaining burlesque and comedy performances to life, which replaces the weaknesses of Lee's book with strengths. Neat trick, and a pretty neat movie. Did Stanwyck ever headline a failure? We suppose she must have, but we haven't seen it yet. She's not thought of by some as a great cinematic beauty, but if you agree with that assessment this movie may change your mind. Lady of Burlesque premiered today in 1943.

History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 12
1971—Corona Sent to Prison
Mexican-born serial killer Juan Vallejo Corona is convicted of the murders of 25 itinerant laborers. He had stabbed each of them, chopped a cross in the backs of their heads with a machete, and buried them in shallow graves in fruit orchards in Sutter County, California. At the time the crimes were the worst mass murders in U.S. history.
July 11
1960—To Kill a Mockingbird Appears
Harper Lee's racially charged novel To Kill a Mockingbird is published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. The book is hailed as a classic, becomes an international bestseller, and spawns a movie starring Gregory Peck, but is the only novel Lee would ever publish.
1962—Nuke Test on Xmas Island
As part of the nuclear tests codenamed Operation Dominic, the United States detonates a one megaton bomb on Australian controlled Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. The island was a location for a series of American and British nuclear tests, and years later lawsuits claiming radiation damage to military personnel were filed, but none were settled in favor in the soldiers.
July 10
1940—The Battle of Britain Begins
The German Air Force, aka the Luftwaffe, attacks shipping convoys off the coast of England, touching off what Prime Minister Winston Churchill describes as The Battle of Britain.
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