Vintage Pulp Dec 1 2021
SMALL POX, BIG CITY
Evelyn Keyes goes from jewel thief to disease vector in The Killer That Stalked New York.


Above are a couple of excellent posters for the drama The Killer That Stalked New York, one of which features Evelyn Keyes on a high ledge. The movie is sometimes classified as a film noir, and we really don't mean to act like pain-in-the-ass purists, but we don't consider it a film noir. Plotwise, it deals with a jewel smuggler who unknowingly brings smallpox from Cuba to New York City. Keyes smuggled the jewels in for her boyfriend, but when she turns them over to him the sneaky fucker absconds. Keyes knows he has to sell them in the city, so she tries to track him down and prevent him from stiffing her, even as doctors notice that people are falling ill, manage to identify the culprit as smallpox, and try to decide how to stop the spread of the virus. Obviously, there are numerous parallels and ironies involved in watching this in the COVID-19 era. Carl Benton Reid as NYC's health commissioner: “Anyone not vaccinated is liable to get the disease. If they still refuse to submit, then tell them what they face.”

Of course, smallpox had a 30% per-case death rate compared to 1.6% in the U.S. for COVID-19, but mention that difference to people who've watched others die and see what reaction you get. What 1.6% represents, aside from a death rate, is a level of suffering at which tens of millions of adults shrug and refuse to take a shot to help save lives—at least 775,000 dead in the U.S. and counting, each of them a real person, not just a statistic. We've lost two close friends to this virus, neither in a so-called high risk category, and so has PI-1—whose friend spent weeks on a ventilator only to finally succumb to brain death. She had a six-year-old daughter. That kind of disaster kills not just the victim, but quite possibly forever harms families and loved ones.

Keyes reaches the point where her smallpox makes her like a dead woman walking, but she won't drop until she's found that chiseler of a boyfriend and made him pay for crossing her. What The Killer That Stalked New York ends up being is a crime procedural-turned medical thriller-turned double-layered chase movie. Keyes is a great, unsung star, and her willingness to uglify herself shows her commitment to the art of storytelling, but even so, the movie could be better. The two layers of story are required, because it's only Keyes criminal status that causes her to run around dodging the cops—and by accident spreading the virus—however the film maybe should have done away with its framing narration and public service feel. At least it has Keyes. Nothing dims her luster for us—not even a mediocre script, dark rings under her eyes, and a layer of fever sweat. The Killer That Stalked New York premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.

Killer virus? Whatever. I'll take my chances.

Hi, is it too late for big government to save my ass?

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The Naked City Nov 24 2021
SHAFT'S REVENGE
Two burglars take the express to the bottom floor.


There are robberies, robberies gone wrong, and robberies gone horribly wrong. In the latter category was this effort by Robert Green and Jacob Jagendorf. Green was a night watchman (some accounts say elevator operator) at a New York City shirt factory, and apparently conceived a way to use his access to pull off a theft of expensive silk fabric. Late one night, he and Jagendorf stopped an elevator on the fifth floor of the building, wedged the doors open, and proceeded to load in bolts of the pricy fabric, doing so in the dark to avoid alerting any observers outside the building. At some point the elevator rose to the tenth floor, Green and Jagendorf stepped into the now open shaft in the dark, and plunged five stories—“clasping each other as they dropped,” according to one news story. Since they aren't clasping each other in the photo, we have no idea how newspapers knew any clasping occurred, but we buy it. We'd definitely try to clasp something in that moment. In fact, we'd go way beyond clasping and try to land on our partner. Probably wouldn't work, but either way we wouldn't have to apologize. Sadly, both Green and Jagendorf were killed, making the macabre tableau you see here. That was today in 1915.
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Vintage Pulp Nov 20 2021
36 DIRTY TRICKS
Ed Spingarn takes readers on a bumpy ride down mammary lane.


Robert Maguire painted the cover for Ed Spingarn's 1957 novel Perfect 36, and came up with something beautiful and colorful that drew our eye. The tagline—A revealing and riotous story of the bosom business—did the rest of the sales job. The book tells the story of nineteen-year-old Rosalie Gershon, who's determined to make something of herself professionally, and, thanks to her outstanding figure, stumbles into the ladies undergarment business. Seems she's a perfect model for the newly created Brooklyn Bridge Bra, designed along architectural principles. Rosalie wants to succeed, but she's also a virgin with insistent hormones, and the high rolling fast talkers of the NYC fashion business are lining up to take her on her first mattress ride.

In other words, what you have here is a virtue-in-danger novel, but one that's better than most. Will Rosalie give in, and if so to whom? The poor but sincere co-worker? The business mogul's slick son? The rich man who offers her mink coats? Everybody wants her and they'll play dirty to get her. Only in fiction is it so difficult being gorgeous. As the plot develops, Rosalie's virginity—actually her possible lack of it—becomes worth potentially $100,000. It's an unlikely twist, and Rosalie's an unlikely character, but Spingarn manages to make her sympathetic, and he does it by using high quality literary skills and (we suspect) inside knowledge of the fashion industry. We'd read him again, for sure, but unfortunately Perfect 36 seems to be the only novel he ever wrote.
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Vintage Pulp Nov 18 2021
DOING THE SPLITS
Hold it! That's good. Now give me shock and dismay. Excellent! Now give me, “I-wonder-if-he-shot-me-in-that-sixty-nine.”


Why buy sleaze digests? Because some of them are very good. Jed Anthony's Divorce Racket Girls is categorized as a sleazer, but it's really a hard-boiled drama, telling the story of Frank Rodie, a New York City detective who specializes in gathering evidence for divorce actions. This basically involves catching his rich clients' spouses in bed. If he can do that by following them around, fine. If he needs to seduce them himself, well, even better. But there may be a price to pay for sticking his private dick into the lives of NYC's one percent. The book is extremely well written in parts, bringing to mind contemporary writers like James Ellroy. Have a read:

At Healy's later. Still about ten G's left. What to do with it? Tony Spinalli invites him to a big poker session. The weisenheimers are laying for the rolls of two fall guys from Alabama. On the third night of the limit game he is wiped out. Stickpin gone. New car gone. He signs a note for the three grand held in trust for Judith. Two nights later learns that the Alabama suckers had been sharpshooters in league with Tony and the others. In the gambling world there's no comeback. A lobster falls easiest. Well, easy come, easy go.

Another snippet:

Frank Rodie, undercover man. From city to city, all over the map. White light and red light and Bible sectors. Eyes roving, ears cocked, smiling his disarming way into people's confidences. Feeling his path along the sundry strata of the underworld, acquiring every trick of the game, posing as a “dip,” a “sheet-writer,” a “yegg.” A good detective must be a good thief. Dizzying whirl, the people and the places rotating about young Rodie. Cabarets, the racetrack, the pipe and coke in hip-joints, roulette houses, country clubs. The world bristling everywhere.

One more:

Always when the case involved a dame, he was assigned to rope her. Irresistible Rodie, making passes at drugstore blondes and exotic brunettes, dumb clucks and wise babies, the perfumed and the smelly, ga-ga gushers and junoesque heavies, joy-ladies and cherries—women of every complexion, nationality, and virtue. Look at them fall for the Big-Boy, his contagious grin, his busy hands.

So yeah, Jed Anthony has a strong voice and talent, and Divorce Racket Girls is a good book, even if it has an ending that values irony over credibility. We've seen it on sale for fifty dollars, but we've also seen it for five because nobody seems certain how to price it. Sleaze digests are usually expensive, especially if they have covers painted by digest specialists like George Gross or Rudy Nappi. But don't let magical art make you think the prose is magic too. Often the opposite is true. The photo front on this book isn't scintillating, but the writing shines. After we finished it we looked for more from Anthony and found nothing. Too bad. The man had style.
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Vintage Pulp Nov 13 2021
UPTOWN EXPRESS
Finally! I've been waiting here an eternity for a man who looks like a success. Wanna get married?


This cover for 1951's She Had What It Takes by Kermit Welles is uncredited but it was definitely painted by Rudy Nappi, an amazing stylist, whose work is not always immediately identifiable due to the variations he showed when painting femmes fatales. The bangs and heavy eyebrows you see on this one mark her as Nappi all the way, but often his work resembled that of George Gross and Howell Dodd. We've never seen a less-than-excellent cover from him, though, and this one is especially good.

The story deals with a smalltown journalist named Jan Flowers who wants to make it to NYC, have her own society column, and marry rich. She dumps her true love Tony Bennett (not that one), jets to the Big Apple, and promptly finds every worm. The worst of her problems is probably that the cousin she's living with is consorting with a local gangster who's always in the apartment giving Jan the eye and threatening to take her by force. Or maybe the worst of her problems is the blackmail scheme she gets involved in to advance her career. Or maybe it's the employer who wants to play slip and slide and makes Jan feel that if she does he'll open doors for her.

Well, take your choice. The point is New York is can be rough on a single girl. But She Had What It Takes, while being a drama and a quasi-crime novel and a morality play about what can happen when you ride the sell-your-soul train, is also largely a romance, and a particularly saccharine one, which means things won't end up too terribly no matter what kind of bonehead decisions Jan makes. Despite the lack of real suspense, overall the book was alright. Ultimately lightweight, but readable and reasonably fun. For what we paid, we can't complain.
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Vintage Pulp Oct 31 2021
NOTHING TO SEE HERE
The artist is almost as mysterious as his posters.


You can see immediately that this Universal Pictures teaser poster for 1933's The Invisible Man is special. You'll find out how special in a minute. It was painted by Hungarian born artist Karoly Grosz, whose work is highly sought after. With this dark portrait he captured the essence of the film's insane central character Dr. Jack Griffin, who accidentally discovers invisibility and decides, what the hell, he'll use it to take over the world. An original of this poster went up for auction a few years back and pulled in $275,000. That's about as special as vintage art gets.

Halloween is today, so we thought we'd share more horror posters. Since Grosz specialized in that genre, we were able to focus solely on him and his work for Universal. Though he's a collectible legend, his bio is a bit sketchy. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1901 as a child, was naturalized as a citizen, and grew up to live and work in New York City. His output came mainly between 1920 and 1938, and he died young sometime after that (nobody is sure when, but most sources say he was in his early forties). At least he left behind these beautiful gifts to cinematic art. You can see another piece from him in this post from a while back, the one with the green-eyed cat.
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Vintage Pulp Oct 16 2021
AFTER HOURS
Everything that matters happens while the city sleeps.


This poster for The Sleeping City says it's the exciting successor to The Naked City. That's a mighty bold claim, considering The Naked City was directed by the legendary Jules Dassin and was selected for permanent preservation by the U.S. Library of Congress's National Film Registry, while The Sleeping City was directed by the not-quite-legendary George Sherman, who mostly helmed westerns and received a Golden Boot Award for his contributions to the Western film genre. Both were skilled at their craft, no doubt. But there's a big difference between the National Film Registry and the Golden Boot.

The Sleeping City is a New York City based crime thriller, and it starts with a cheeseball introduction in which lead Richard Conte pays tribute to Bellevue Hospital and its doctors and nurses. It was tacked onto the finished picture after city officials learned that the public already viewed the hospital negatively, and a crime thriller set there might make those perceptions worse. But it was still a silly thing to do—Bellevue was a public hospital. It wasn't like it was going to lose ad revenue from bad publicity. In any case, we're glad these sorts of “the story you're about to see” preambles didn't last long in Hollywood.

Once the movie gets started, Conte plays a cop sent undercover to solve a murder at the hospital. He's posing as a doctor and has some medical experience, but is by all means to avoid being roped into a situation where he actually has to do any doctoring. If he gets in a jam of that sort he's supposed to sacrifice his cover, and as reliably as the turn of a script page, he gets trapped into treating a case of diabetic shock. He decides to forge ahead rather than step aside. One could ponder his ethics, but luckily he gets through by the skin of his teeth. Whew.

Conte sticks his long nose in various nooks and crannies around Bellevue, makes goo-goo eyes with ward nurse Coleen Gray, and finds himself roomed with a hothead doctor named Steve. The murder mystery eventually lands right in his lap when his roommate turns up dead—lucky break that—and an important clue is provided by a nurse played by Peggy “Wow*” Dow. We won't tell you how the plot unspools from that point. We'll just say The Sleeping City is a functional thriller worth a watch. With Conte and Gray on board, it's pretty hard to fail. The film premiered today in 1950.

*Not her official nickname. That's just how we think of her.

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Vintage Pulp Oct 3 2021
U.S. OF ESSAYS
Excuse me madam, would you like to hear an American's opinions about everything?


John Steinbeck's Un americano en Nueva York y en Paris was published in 1957 by Ediciones Mariel, which was based in Buenos Aires. First published in 1956 in France as Un Américain à New York et à Paris, this is a collection of articles that Steinbeck wrote for Le Figaro when he was living in Paris. Because they originally appeared in French for a French publication many went unpublished in English for decades. In fact we can't be sure all the essays are available in English even today, though one would like to assume so. In any case, that's why this book caught our eye—because it surprised us that the entire collection of essays was available in Argentina, but not the U.S., almost immediately after they appeared in France.

Steinbeck was a serious writer, and thus was considered a serious persona, but the Le Figaro essays gave him a chance to show readers his wit and humor. Some of his observations read so contemporarily they could be from a year ago, particularly his musings over a restaurant owner who received a Michelin star, then spent every waking moment plotting, hoping, suffering to get another. He hopes to have his chance when the Michelin critic schedules another visit. The fact that the chef's official taster is Steinbeck's cat Apollo just adds more absurdity to the tale, as the genius who wrote Of Mice and Men veers into the silliness of cats and menus.

The parts of Un americano en Nueva York y en Paris not about France consist of articles concerning New York, culture, and politics. One of those latter entries, from 1954, is about Joseph McCarthy, who was in full witch hunt mode at the time. Much of the literati were loudly opposed to the proto-fascist senator, but Steinbeck took a different tack, writing that democracies occasionally need a challenge from demagogues in order to evolve, because such dark episodes remind people what democratic ideals really are—i.e. everyone gets to participate, not just self-appointed gatekeepers and purity-testers afraid of change or losing power. The tent of democracy always gets bigger, not smaller. It can't do the latter and qualify as a democracy.

The cover art on this was painted by J.C. Cotignola, whose work appeared on various Argentine and Brazilian publications, but who isn't well known today. Bang up job though. To us the title of the collection somewhat echoes George Orwell's acclaimed Down and Out in Paris and London, another book about knocking around in a couple of big cities. The difference is Orwell was so poor he almost starved to death—he literally ate moldy bread out of garbage cans to survive. Steinbeck was the toast of Paris when he was there. Given a choice, we'd skip the mold and go straight to the toast. Preferably with a layer of rillette de porc on top. Even Apollo the cat would approve of that.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 26 2021
HOUSE OF SECRETS
In New York City people of a certain class live on the Upper East Side. Stockbrokers, lawyers, Nazis...


This poster would have sucked us right through the moviehouse doors had we been around when it was on display. It has beautiful colors, an air of mystery, a nice design, and dramatic graphics. The House on 92nd Street, which starred William Eythe, Lloyd Nolan, and Signe Hasso (who we've seen a lot of lately), definitely doesn't rise to the level of the promo art. It qualifies as a propaganda film, though the events depicted are accurate. But with J. Edgar Hoover appearing briefly in the prologue, a stentorian narration, stilted dialogue, and a soundtrack that veers toward the martial, it's pretty hard to immerse yourself in what is undeniably a Hollywood-on-FBI stroke job.

If you take the plunge, the movie turns out to be about a German American student who is recruited by Nazis but instead becomes a double agent for the FBI during the period when World War II was raging in Europe but the U.S. wasn't militarily involved yet. German spies had been deployed around the U.S., and the movie deals with a particular group that gets wind of an important military secret, the secret of—dum dum duuuuuuum—the bomb. You know. The big bomb. The A-bomb. The nuke. The edge. The be-all. The end-all. The mushroom cloud layin', eyeball meltin', city flattenin', effervescently fissionatin' ordnance both Germany and the U.S. thought would win the war. Good premise, actually.

But since World War II was almost over when the film came out, the plot's outcome was a given. Did audiences feel any suspense? We aren't convinced. Even if the FBI hadn't routed out the spies, the skyrocketing Upper East Side real estate prices would have. The Nazis would have moved to the Bronx seeking cheaper rent. With the conclusion not in doubt, the movie's thrills needed to be provided by the audience's attachment to double agent Eythe, who's in constant danger of being outed and de-cortexed by a Luger slug. Unfortunately, he's mostly an empty suit, therefore the movie fails on that level. It was well reviewed in its day, but duh, critics need to eat too. We doubt many would have panned the movie at that time. But the lens of history is cruel and today the film is considered substandard.

The best aspect of The House on 92nd Street is Signe Hasso as the cast iron Frau Farbissina style bitch operating the nest of naughty Nazis, but she's not enough to save the production—nor ultimately the spy ring. If the filmmakers had ditched the narration, the scare music, the scare Hoover, and gone less procedural and more personal, maybe there would have been a good film in this somewhere, but as it turned out it's just a middling crime melodrama considered to be a fringy film noir—certainly one the genre could do without. The poster, though, remains very nice. The House on 92nd Street premiered today in 1945.
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Vintage Pulp Aug 8 2021
ALL BETTIE
When you choose an inspiration choose the best.


Above you see a cover from Beacon Signal books, circa 1960, for All Woman by Matt Harding. The woman in this case is the legendary Bettie Page, rendered by illustrator Jack Faragasso. Page appeared on vintage book covers several times, either in photo or painted form. We've shown you examples of both types here and here, and you'll notice one of those covers is also by Faragasso. Clearly he had an affinity for Page, and there's a reason. When he was attending the Art Students League of New York in 1951 he shot nude photos of her. This was before she was well known. Faragasso later published those images in a book, but as far as using them as inspiration for paperback covers, he did it only twice. We'll keep an eye out for more Page covers. For that matter, we'll keep an eye out for more Faragasso covers too.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 18
1926—Aimee Semple McPherson Disappears
In the U.S., Canadian born evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson disappears from Venice Beach, California in the middle of the afternoon. She is initially thought to have drowned, but on June 23, McPherson stumbles out of the desert in Agua Prieta, a Mexican town across the border from Douglas, Arizona, claiming to have been kidnapped, drugged, tortured and held for ransom in a shack by two people named Steve and Mexicali Rose. However, it soon becomes clear that McPherson's tale is fabricated, though to this day the reasons behind it remain unknown.
1964—Mods and Rockers Jailed After Riots
In Britain, scores of youths are jailed following a weekend of violent clashes between gangs of Mods and Rockers in Brighton and other south coast resorts. Mods listened to ska music and The Who, wore suits and rode Italian scooters, while Rockers listened to Elvis and Gene Vincent, and rode motorcycles. These differences triggered the violence.
May 17
1974—Police Raid SLA Headquarters
In the U.S., Los Angeles police raid the headquarters of the revolutionary group the Symbionese Liberation Army, resulting in the deaths of six members. The SLA had gained international notoriety by kidnapping nineteen-year old media heiress Patty Hearst from her Berkeley, California apartment, an act which precipitated her participation in an armed bank robbery.
1978—Charlie Chaplin's Missing Body Is Found
Eleven weeks after it was disinterred and stolen from a grave in Corsier near Lausanne, Switzerland, Charlie Chaplin's corpse is found by police. Two men—Roman Wardas, a 24-year-old Pole, and Gantscho Ganev, a 38-year-old Bulgarian—are convicted in December of stealing the coffin and trying to extort £400,000 from the Chaplin family.
May 16
1918—U.S. Congress Passes the Sedition Act
In the U.S., Congress passes a set of amendments to the Espionage Act called the Sedition Act, which makes "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces, as well as language that causes foreigners to view the American government or its institutions with contempt, an imprisonable offense. The Act specifically applies only during times of war, but later is pushed by politicians as a possible peacetime law, specifically to prevent political uprisings in African-American communities. But the Act is never extended and is repealed entirely in 1920.
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