French crime drama throws Caution to the wind.
Here you see two posters for the 1953 French crime drama La môme vert de gris, which was called Poison Ivy in the U.S. This was adapted from a 1937 novel by Peter Cheyney that featured his recurring character FBI agent Lemmy Caution, who onscreen is played by Eddie Constantine. When two million dollars worth of gold goes missing Constantine is sent to Casablanca to determine its disposition and identify all malefactors involved. He finds himself pitted against a criminal mastermind of sorts, and a hive of henchmen that occupy a nightclub, a yacht, and a hideout in Casablanca's old quarter. Constantine deals with all comers by applying the time-honored advice: when in doubt, punch them out.
Film buffs the world over associate Casablanca with the Humphrey Bogart film of the same name, but the city you see here is different from the one made famous by Bogart and Co. ten years earlier. The Casablanca of this film is a maze of L.A.-style roads, white skyscrapers, and an industrial port the size of Long Beach. We checked population figures and learned it was already a major city of more than 500,000 people during the early 1940s, which means that Casablanca's village feel is really just a clever cinematic fantasy. Poison Ivy's Casablanca is real, and the many location shots mixed into the movie prove it.
That's Dominique Wilms on the top poster, and she's the reason we watched the movie. In this, her cinematic debut, she plays a femme fatale named Carlotta de la Rue, which of course indicates that she's a woman from the street. If that isn't enough to warn the men away, her friends call her Poison Ivy. Why? Because she burns. Hopefully that's meant figuratively, and above the waist. A character bringing so much heat must of course perform a torch song, which she sings with detachment, while the lyrics—as they usually do—indicate deeper issues: “I wander with my sorrow, along with my memories, looking for my old joys, which I've seen fade and die.” See? She just wants to be loved, assuming a man isn't thwarted by her acid tongue, that ironic right eyebrow, and the barbed wire encircling her heart.
The movie is certainly watchable, though it's nothing special aside from its exotic setting. But you have to appreciate the French love for U.S. crime fiction. In fact, director Bernard Borderie got the band back together and cast Constantine, Wilms, and her prehensile eyebrow in the next Caution movie, 1954's Les femmes s'en balancent. Constantine and Wilms also co-starred in 1957's Le grand bluff, another Caution adaptation, but helmed by Patrice Dally. Constantine went on to make Caution the signature character of his career. Wilms, who at age ninety is still out there somewhere, had about a dozen more roles before leaving cinema behind, but we think she had “it,” and will definitely check out some of her other work.
Are you absolutely sure the place we're staying is this way?
Smartphones have certainly made this situation less likely to occur, but on the other hand, when you come back from a trip which story do you tell your friends? The one about how you got exactly where you wanted to go, or the one about how you got lost and thought you were done for? Hammond Innes sets The Naked Land in French Morocco, as it was called then, and we can really sympathize with the two figures on the cover art because, as some of you may remember, we've been lost in Morocco too. One of the main characters here is a missionary—and we know that always goes well—who heads down to the Magreb and ends up trying to secure a mineral rich patch of land. You know the drill. Westerners trying to claim their divinely appointed riches while benighted locals stand in the way. You also get the added elements of assumed identity, spywork, communism, a murder mystery, Marrakech's mazelike central souk (awesome, by the way), and finally, an actual element—silver. The book was originally published in Britain as The Strange Land, with this U.S. edition coming in 1954 fronted by cover art from Ed Valigursky.
Around the world in sixty pages.
Exotic Adventures was a men's magazine put out by NYC based Gladiator Publications, Inc. It seems obvious the company had great ambitions, but it managed only six issues before folding. This one came in 1959 with cover art signed “Louis,” whose full identity is not given. In fact, only three people are listed as staff—editor George P. Wallace and two others—so the cover artist wasn't the only hard worker who got short shrift. The individual authors are given bylines, though, as are the men who narrated their "true" tales to biographers.
Exotic Destinations lived up to its name, with pieces set in Kashmir, French Cameroon, Morocco, Honduras, Malaya, and Borneo, and nude models who are supposedly from Japan, Brazil, France, and Germany. It was all printed on glossy paper, which is why you won't see the usual yellowing you get with old magazines, though the printing got a little streaky and inconsistent in the middle pages. Still, taken as a whole Exotic Adventures is a high quality publication, which we snared courtesy of the now idle Darwin's Scans blog. Forty-plus panels below.
Huh? What do you mean you tipped him enough earlier to cover our whole stay?
David Dodge was a very deft writer. When he died in 1974 The Last Match hadn't been published, but Hard Case Crime put it out in 2006, and it falls into the same category as his To Catch a Thief, as well as jet-set grifter novels by other authors. For us this was tremendously entertaining. Dodge takes his protagonist to Spain, southern France, Tangier, Central America, Brazil, and other exotic locales, weaving in foreign vocabulary and mixing it all up to reflect his character's life as an international rolling stone. Like when he explains offhand that the Brazilian soft drink guaraná is fizzy like a Portuguese vinho verde, but sweet, and perfect for mixing with cachaça. Little things like that give the tale great flavor. And the story of an inveterate con man knocking about from country to country while stalked by a smitten aristocratic beauty (who he refers to as Nemesis) has plenty of amusements. Some say it's not Dodge at his best because it has no plot, but stories only need to entertain. Dodge, like his main character, is remembering the highlights of his life and mixing in a portion of male-oriented fantasy. We'll admit to having a weakness for the tale because we've been to most of the places mentioned, had high times drinking guaraná mixed with cachaça, and met more than one charming hustler or beauty who arrived from parts unknown to send the town reeling. But as objectively as we can manage to assess, we think The Last Match is good, lighthearted fun. Highly recommended.
MI5 files reveal another compromising John Profumo affair.
An interesting report came out of Great Britain earlier today about John Profumo, the disgraced Secretary of State for War who resigned in 1963 after it emerged that he was having an affair with Christine Keeler, who also had sexual ties to a Russian intelligence officer. When authorities learned of the potential security threat, Profumo was interrogated, at which point he denied involvement with Keeler. When his denial was found to be false, he resigned amid the spiraling scandal.
Now MI5 files have revealed that Profumo had a previous affair with a Nazi spy who may have tried to blackmail him. The woman was named Gisela Klein, and she and Profumo met at Oxford University in 1936 when he was an undergrad. During World War II she began working for Nazi intelligence, and after the war was imprisoned as a spy. However the American in charge of her jail got her released and married her. As Gisela Winegard she maintained contact with Profumo after he entered politics, and he allegedly wrote letters to her on House of Commons stationery.
There's no evidence Profumo knew about his old flame's Nazi connections, but he may have learned of her blackmail schemes by becoming a target. In 1951 Winegard was living in Tangier with her husband when she applied for a visa to visit Britain and listed “Jack Profumo MP” as a reference.
Observers are speculating whether Profumo may have been under pressure to help push her application through. But the visa was eventually refused because of Winegard's Nazi past, with the head of British intelligence in Tangier also noting: “We have good reason to believe Mr. and Mrs. Winegard have recently engaged in blackmailing activities and now think it is possible their intended visit to the UK may be connected with this affair.”
Since we've mentioned the Profumo Affair several times, we found this to be an interesting footnote, especially in light of the ongoing U.S. Justice Department investigation into White House connections to Russian operatives. It's curious that Profumo's affairs would twice send him orbiting so close to spies of adversarial countries, but it doesn't seem as if the Klein/Winegard connection will produce any real smoking gun in terms of improper favors. As for Trump and Russia, that remains to be seen. You can read some previous posts on the infamous Profumo Affair here, here, and here.
North Africa provides the setting for another Hollywood overseas adventure.
We have a strong affinity for Morocco after our adventures there a few years ago, so any movie that references that strange and wonderful country is one we must seek out. The Woman from Tangier, starring Adele Jergens, is basically another attempt to catch Casablanca lightning in a bottle. The story deals with a dancer in trouble with the law trying to flee from Morocco to Gibratar, but being sidetracked when the ship she's sailing on has its safe robbed and its purser murdered. Detective work follows, conducted by insurance investigator and love interest Stephen Dunne. Together he and Jergens solve the mystery, which of course loops tidiliy right back to her original difficulties.
We're fascinated by how outward looking Hollywood was during the 1940s. Though most of the productions never left Southern California, the action was set in dozens of countries. In the thriller/film noir category alone we've seen Gilda and Cornered (Argentina), The Shanghai Gesture, Bermuda Mystery, To Have and Have Not (Martinique), Temptation (Egypt), Sundown (Sénégal), Appointment in Honduras, and The Mask of Dimitrios (Turkey), not to mentions dozens of others set wholly or partly in France, England, Spain, and Mexico. The Woman from Tangier, then, was part of a well established trend. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1948.
Nuclear intrigue in North Africa.
Above, top notch cover art by Jacques Thibésart, aka Mik, for Jo Claver’s Bombe atomique à Port-Lyautey, which was published by Éditions Le Globe and Éditions Le Trotteur in 1956. Claver was aka Georges Claver-Peyre, and this particular book is Cold War intrigue and romance set in Morocco. See more fine Thibésart here and here.
Wow, you’re blurrier and taller than you were earlier this evening.
French actress Nathalie Delon was born in Oudja, Morocco as Francine Canovas, during the period when the North African country was occupied by France. She appeared in more than thirty films, including Bluebeard, Sex Shop, and Un sussurro nel buio, aka A Whisper in the Dark, and she also wrote, directed, and recorded music. We love this photo because not only was it shot in the world’s swankiest bar, but because it looks like it was photographed from the perspective of someone who got drunk and fell off his stool. No beer goggles here, though—Delon is a celebrated beauty. The shot is from 1977.
Eileen Walton proves she’s just as talented as her sister.
Last week we shared a group of book covers that used shadows or silhouettes of Venetian blinds as a theme. We stumbled across one more on Flickr—George B. Mair’s 1964 North African spy adventure Miss Turquoise. It’s the second of his books starring David Grant, a character he based loosely on himself. The art is by Eileen Walton, sister of illustrator Barbara Walton, and she shows that talent ran in the family with this lovely moonlit tableau for Jarrold Publishing. Thanks to the original uploader, and see the other covers of this ilk here.
Confidential goes full throttle on the high seas.
On this Confidential from February 1965 the publishers give their cut-and-paste artists a month off and grace the cover with a simple portrait of Brigitte Bardot and her famed pout. Inside the editors air out her love life in a way that today would be called slut shaming—pretty much stock-in-trade for Confidential. The suggestion is she won’t come to the U.S. to act because she’s busy Morockin’ around the clock with Moroccan-born producer Bob Zaguri. Elsewhere in the issue you get Romy Schneider, Jean Harlow, Alain Delon, Peter O’Toole, love behind the Iron Curtain, and an outraged report on pharmaceutical companies marking up medicines 200%, 500%, even 7,000%. Yes, medicines cost too much in the U.S. even back then. But don’t take our word for it. Take Confidential’s—their story ends by declaring that drug companies have Americans by the balls and the only way to avoid the drug price racket is to not get sick.
But moving on, as we mentioned last week, we wanted to look at tabloid attitudes toward gay culture, and this issue has two articles along those lines. The first involves gay cruises off the Florida coast, an activity Confidential informs readers was devised as a way to avoid Dade County vice cops. Once the boats were in international waters therewas no law, local or federal, which could be applied against shipboard activities. We’ll come back to that in a sec. The other story involves what Confidential describes as the middlesex—i.e. people who lack strong masculine or feminine characteristics. The story is concerned with this only as a social issue and makes no mention of physically intersex persons who genetically are neither male nor female.
For Confidential the issue is simple—men are no longer macho enough and women are no longer (submissively) alluring enough. Of course, gay men are the ultimate villains here, and to make the topic emotional for readers Confidential paints a picture of an America devoid of Jayne Mansfields and Lana Turners. The article’s author Harold Cimoli sums it up this way: “As female busts and hips grow ever narrower even Playboy may have trouble keeping its broad-watchers supplied with bosomy playmates.” And there’s also this tidbit: “Designers of both types of clothing are poaching unforgivably on the styles of each other. The main hope must be the evolution of an entirely new style of ensemble for these new phenomena and a new branch of the industry to supply it.” Were they really this comically worried about visual identification issues? Of course they were—what could be more disturbing to guardians of a prevailing social structure than people managing to wriggle out of their pre-assigned boxes?
The story on gay cruises is a bit more typical of mid-century tabloids—it’s just a takedown piece. Gay men are blithely described as “lavender lads,” “minces,” and other words we wouldn’t dare dirty our website with. The effusiveness of the magazine’s hateful and sneerful terminology suggestsjust how certain Confidential editors were that homosexuality was completely beyond the pale. And yet, nearly every issue harped on the subject, either directly or indirectly. For instance, here we get full reportage on a maritime cabaret show featuring drag queens, followed by detailed descriptions of music, dancing, and gambling. You’d almost think the writer Gaye Bird—nice, right?—was actually there.
The cruise is eventually reported to the boat rental agency in Miami, whose owner vows that he will never again allow his vessels to be used for such debauchery. The response from the organizer of the cruises was this: “There are approximately one-hundred thousand boats or ships of some sort or another. I think we’ll be able to find some way to balance supply and demand.” Ouch—zinged right in the Econ 101s. Doubtless Confidential expected the congressional switchboard to light up over this outrageous appropriation of boats meant for exclusively heterosexual usage, but whether it happened we can’t say—the story ends there. And Confidential readers were left to endure thirty days of disquiet until the next gay bashing issue came out. We won't wait quite that long—we'll explore this subject in another tabloid soon. More scans below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1939—Adams Completes Around-the-World Air Journey
American Clara Adams becomes the first woman passenger to complete an around-the-world air journey. Her voyage began and ended in New York City, with stops in Lisbon, Marseilles, Leipzig, Athens, Basra, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
1955—Nobel Prize Winners Unite Against Nukes
Eighteen Nobel laureates sign the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, which reads in part: We think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of [nuclear] weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce.
1997—Versace Murdered in Miami
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot dead on the steps of his Miami mansion as he returns from breakfast at a cafe. His killer is Andrew Cunanan, a man who had already murdered four other people across the country and was the focus of an FBI manhunt. The FBI never caught Cunanan—instead he committed suicide on the houseboat where he was living.
1921—Sacco & Vanzetti Convicted
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Dedham, Massachusetts of killing their shoe company's paymaster. Even at the time there are serious questions about their guilt, and whether they are being railroaded because of their Italian ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs.
1933—Eugenics Becomes Official German Policy
Adolf Hitler signs the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and Germany begins sterilizing those they believe carry hereditary illnesses, and those they consider impure. By the end of WWII more than 400,000 are sterilized, including criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, Jews, and people of mixed German-African heritage.
1955—Ruth Ellis Executed
Former model Ruth Ellis is hanged at Holloway Prison in London for the murder of her lover, British race car driver David Blakely. She is the last woman executed in the United Kingdom.
1966—Richard Speck Rampage
breaks into a Chicago townhouse where he systematically rapes and kills eight student nurses. The only survivor hides under a bed the entire night.
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