Vintage Pulp Apr 19 2024
REST UNEASY
When there's a killer on the loose you'd better sleep with one eye open.


This poster for While the City Sleeps doesn't impress with masterly art the way so many vintage promos do, but its simplicity is, in an oblique sort of way, we think, meant to echo tabloid covers from the era. RKO made a special poster in collaboration with Confidential magazine, which you'll see below. The movie's plot is pure tabloid fodder. A serial killer has slain women in New York City, leaving the cryptic message “Ask mother,” written on the walls of one murder scene. Vincent Price, owner of Kyne News Service, part of a media empire comprising ten newspapers, a wire service, and other interests, offers the position of executive director to three employees in order to draw them into cutthroat competition with each other. Soon it becomes clear that finding the identity of the “lipstick killer” is the winning move. Intrigue and subterfuge take over the office. Everyone gets involved, from senior editors to stringers to gossip columnist Ida Lupino, but the killer is too clever to be caught.

At least until intrepid Pulitzer Prize winning television reporter Dana Andrews airs a scornful and taunting broadcast, deliberately setting up his own fiancée as bait. He doesn't even ask her permission. Well, he does, but only after arranging to publish their engagement announcement in the New York Sentinel right next to a story about the killer. Reckless? Yes. Presumptuous? For sure. There are intertwined plotlines here, but Andrews using his true love as a lure was the most interesting aspect for us. He isn't the only heel on display. The movie is ostensibly about a serial killer, but is really a framework for exposing backbiting and cynical ambition in the big city. Director Fritz Lang, in what was his penultimate U.S. film, explores the cruel banality of what, these days, some call “hustle culture,” and brings the production to a conclusion that's, in the words of Thomas Mitchell's character, “Neat, but nasty.” Our words are: a mandatory watch. While the City Sleeps had a special world premiere today in 1956.
Edit: Vintage movies are excellent windows into bygone customs and practices. There's a great moment in this one. Rhonda Fleming and James Craig are chatting in her apartment late one night when the doorbell unexpectedly buzzes. They look at each other confused for a second, then Fleming says, “It's probably the drugstore. That was the last bottle of Scotch.”

You know, there were a lot of things wrong with the mid-century era. But there were a few things right too. Getting the all-night drugstore to deliver booze has to be one of the most right things we've ever heard of, so we give thanks to While the City Drinks—er Sleeps—for clueing us in, and suggest you call your congressional rep immediately and ask for a law allowing pharmacies to deliver alcohol. If not for yourself, do it for the children. 
 
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Vintage Pulp Apr 9 2024
WORTH THE PRICE
Vince waxes philosophical and discovers the secret of life—death.


House of Wax, which was produced by Warner Brothers and premiered today in 1953, was the first 3D production by any major studio. It's a period piece set in Victorian New York City starring Vincent Price as the creator and half owner of a historical wax museum. Unfortunately, his focus on history leaves the public nonplussed, and his partner Roy Roberts, who needs capital, sets the place aflame for the insurance money. Price is burned and driven insane. Well, actually he was insane before the fire, but in a cute way. He talked to his wax figures and thought they talked back.

But after the fire he's a barking psychopath, running around nighttime Gotham behatted and cloaked like Lamont Cranston. His goal? Revenge, of course, a craving solved early in the proceedings when he pitches Roberts down an elevator shaft with a rope around his neck. But what next? What does one do once vengeance is thine? Well, you build a new wax museum, except this time you surrender to prurient tastes and create displays of modern murder and the macabre. Screw that high-minded history crap.

Everything goes fine until Phyllis Kirk begins to suspect that the extraordinary realism of the wax figures is due to more than just artistic talent. Her suspicion is a screenwriter's concoction—there's no way a person could realistically make the leap Kirk does in believing Price guilty of heinous crimes. The script literally calls it a woman's intuition. Well, okay. But in our experience that's a myth, and it's possibly even insulting when used as substitute for intelligence, so maybe just put a realistic clue in the script and write Kirk's character as very smart instead. In any case, she's definitely nosy as hell, and that's the beginning of the end for vicious Vince.

House of Wax has many things going for it. The sets and costumes are extravagant, the early fire sequence with its melting wax figures is genuinely unsettling, the WarnerColor developing process is attractive, and the acting is uniformly competent, even by that six-foot three-inch Hillshire Farms ham Price. And it's fun to watch Charles Buchinsky, aka Charles Bronson, as the mute assistant Igor. In the end the House of Wax works. Add popcorn, a few friends, and about of case of beer and you'll have a great Saturday night.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 22 2024
BEYOND A REASONABLE DEBT
This ain't Happy Days and he ain't the Fonz.


Since reading William R. Cox's 1961 thriller Death Comes Early we'd been looking around for more from him and located 1958's Hell To Pay, which you see above with a Robert Schulz cover. Cox writes in that same cool style we noted before, as he combines two crime sub-genres—organized crime, and juvenile delinquency. His main character Tom Kincaid is a successful NYC gambler who gets swept up in a mafia takeover centered around crooked boxing. Kincaid is thought by a kingpin named Mosski to be working for an upstart mob, which essentially makes this a find-the-real-killer novel in the sense that if Kincaid can't prove he isn't setting up Mosski his ass is grass. The book has in abundance generation gap musings, shady mingling between criminals and cops, poker described in hand-by-hand detail, and a lot of shooting and/or brutal beatings. Cox provides several good secondary characters, particularly Kincaid's been-around-the-block girlfriend Jean Harper. She's flawed, but then so is everyone here. There's a sequel to Hell To Pay, and we're onto that already.
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Vintage Pulp Feb 17 2024
ENTER THE SUPERDRAGON
The name's Cooper. Brian Cooper. What—you were expecting some other secret agent?


The Italian spy thriller New York chiama Superdrago, which we had a chance to watch during our little break last week, was known in English as Secret Agent Super Dragon, and is another in a spate of hipster spy movies that came in the wake of James Bond's massive cinematic success. It premeired in Italy today in 1966. Three of its promo posters were painted by the great Sandro Symeoni, and while the above example is also attributed to him on some websites, that's incorrect. It's really by Enrico de Seta. Or said to be by one long-running online poster vendor. We're not actually sure about that because the signature doesn't look like his, but who are we to argue with the experts?

In the film, Ray Danton plays a retired agent codenamed Super Dragon—civilian name Brian Cooper—who's roused from his yogic meditations and drawn back into the spy game when a friend dies in a suspicious auto accident that may be related to previous strange deaths. The clues lead from a U.S. college town to Amsterdam (because what kind of spy movie would it be without some globetrotting?), and into the lissome arms of fellow spies Margaret Lee and Marisa Mell (because what kind of spy movie would it be without hotties à la carte?). Between romances Danton learns that the plot revolves around the untraceable drug synchron-2. Purpose: unknown (but don't be shocked if it's to do with world domination).

Few of these Bond knock-offs are sufficiently budgeted or technically proficient enough to result in good final products. Whether you like them has to do with nebulous factors. In this case, we thought Danton's unctious self-entitlement and blasé approach to world saving were funny. We loved when one of his many assailants swallowed cyanide, Danton said, “I'd better get rid of him,” then dumped the corpse out the nearest window. Cue sound effect of splashing water. New York chiama Superdrago is a bit camp without being a satire, and just poorly written enough to provide a few laughs without being a total screenwriting train wreck. But don't pretend we said it's actually good.
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Vintage Pulp Feb 1 2024
HEALTH FREAK
If you don't mind, let's stop for a moment so I can call in a nurse. I'm into threesomes.

More sleaze from Beacon-Signal, this time in the medical sub-genre, with Elaine Dorian's, aka Isabel Moore's 1962 effort The Sex Cure. We last saw her when we read her 1961 novel Love Now Pay Later, which was marketed as sleaze but was actually rather ambitious. There's more deceptive marketing here. The Sex Cure has a certain amount of eroticism, but what you mainly get is the serious tale of a philandering doctor trying to change his ways after his latest girlfriend almost dies from an illegal abortion.

This is not, strictly speaking, entirely the doctor's fault. He'd given his girlfriend money and sent her to a reliable practitioner, but she'd kept most of the cash, went cheap on the procedure, and it cost her. To the doc's dismay, because she'd had to speak to police about the incident, his name is out and his reputation is ruined. There's more to the book, as well as numerous characters and subplots, but is it worth reading? Well, as a pure drama it's nothing special, and it isn't erotic enough to be sleaze, so we can't recommend it.

However, it does have an interesting backstory. Apparently it was based on actual goings-on in Cooperstown, New York. The story goes that when Dorian moved there in 1961 the locals learned or already knew that she was a novelist, and in their zeal to cozy up to a local celebrity passed along the town's gossip. Dorian repackaged much of what she heard into The Sex Cure, and when the townspeople got wind of the novel's contents they were displeased. You can read the entire story at New York Magazine here.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 20 2024
CASES IN POINT
Times change but crimes stay the same.


Above: the cover and selected interior scans from an issue of Complete Detective Cases that appeared on newsstands seventy-six years ago, in January 1947. The magazine was published quarterly by Postal Publications and based in New York City and Chicago. A reading of the stories shows how little we've changed in that long span of time: a man is murdered and dumped in a river, cops get cruel to capture a man who killed one of their own, adultery leads to a savage killing, and a cabbie is senselessly shot in the stomach though he's unarmed and acquiescent. The cover story deals with Sherry Borden, who authors an autobiographical tale of descent into serial robbery. The art in Complete Detective Cases is posed by professional models. You can see more examples of these sort of publications by clicking the keywords “true crime magazine” below.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 23 2023
CITY HEAT
Temperatures rise and tempers fray in Ard thriller.


We've been searching for everything we can find by William Ard because his books have been consistently good. This Popular Library edition of 1955's Hell Is a City has George Mayers cover art. We dove right into it, and the narrative (which is unrelated to the movie of the same name) focuses again on Ard's NYC private investigator Timothy Dane, who this time tries to prove that a slam-dunk murder charge is a frame put together by a predatory cop.

Ard reveals this in chapter one, when young Jamie Colyero, barely more than a boy, shoots the cop who tries to rape his sister Rita. The cop had been after her for weeks, and finally plants heroin on Jamie, engineers an arrest, then tells Rita the charges can possibly dropped if she meets him at a hotel and gives up her goodies. Out of desperation to help her brother, she agrees.

Unbeknownst to her, she's followed to the hotel by her brother, who's out on bail, and Jamie kicks in the door and ruins the cop's plan—lethally. Dane is in the picture shortly thereafter, working for a newspaper editor who wants to expose the lies of a rival sheet that has used its pages to turn the dirty cop into a saint. All of this will swing the next mayoral election, so the stakes are as high as can be.

Long story short, the book is great. Like other Ard tales it moves exceedingly fast for a piece of vintage fiction, racing through numerous twists and scrapes, with intermittent bursts of action, until it reaches a conclusion that shakes the city to its foundations and leaves readers satisfied. If you enjoy 1950s crime novels, read anything by Ard. You won't regret it.
 
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Vintage Pulp Nov 11 2023
JUST DIAL P
She's always there when you need her, but who's there for her?


For years we've been eyeing this awesome promotional poster for the Anne Francis prostitution drama Girl of the Night and always meant to get around to watching the movie. Mission accomplished, finally. The film premiered today in 1960 and was based on The Call Girl, a bestselling book by psychologist Harold Greenwald that began as a doctoral dissertation about prostitutes. We gather it focused on the rationalizations women used to distance themselves from or compartmentalize the work. We wonder if it's outdated by now, but at the time the book was a sensation.

Francis plays Bobbie Williams, a call girl whose bad night causes her to begin talking with a therapist in her building. The movie takes the form of a couch confessional with flashbacks, as we learn about Francis's circumstances, and particularly about the two people—basically a pimp and madame—who conned her into the racket. As the therapy progresses we learn more about her past, including the delivery man who—this part is obviously vague considering the time period—either molested or raped her when she was a child.

With help maybe Francis can break loose from her cage, but it won't be easy. She's emotionally dependent on her pimp, and because she has no job skills freedom looks like another form of imprisonment. We thought all of this was pretty well done. Make no mistake—this movie is a melodrama, but it kept us interested, and that's entirely to the credit of Francis. She's best known these days for her virginal turn in 1956's Forbidden Planet, but she had range, and shows it as the burned out prostitute at the center of the film. For her performance alone, we recommend Girl of the Night.
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Vintage Pulp Sep 29 2023
UNCIVILIZED BEHAVIOR
He kills completely without reservation.


Noel Clad was a promising writer who died in a plane crash when he was thirty-seven. His novel The Savage shows some of that promise. It's about a professional killer named John Tree who's been summoned from his Wyoming ranch by the Chicago syndicate to go to New York City and dispose of an S. Harris. Like many fictional killers Tree has a code: he doesn't kill women. When he arrives in New York he learns that S. Harris is Susan Harris, which dismays him. Then the person who's bought the contract and is calling the shots tells Tree to rape Susan before killing her. Next he finds out she's a single mother with a mute five year-old son. None of it sits well with Tree, but it doesn't cause him to flip sides. He just wants out. He asks to be replaced on the job and be done with the situation. Out of sight, out of mind. His employers agree and send two replacement hired guns to do the job. Tree meets with them and realizes they have no ethics—they will rape their target, and they'll murder her son too.

There are hundreds if not thousands of regular mob hitmen in literature and cinema, so why not do something different? It shouldn't be a controversial idea, but sadly, so many these days consider it to be an assault on territory they own somehow. But diversification isn't a new thing. Clever writers have been doing it all along. Clad does it in The Savage. The killer for hire, the anti-hero John Tree, is full name John Running Tree, member of the Shoshone tribe, Native American by both blood and culture. That simple change takes the book in a different direction than other hitman tales. Here we have a killer who hates to think about his impoverished youth on a reservation, who glorifies Native American tests of manhood, and who sees a stripper wearing a tribal headdress as a prop and is angered. You get interesting passages like this:

Being here made him think of religion and how little he knew and the things that had passed for it when he was little: the spirits and the half-reverent amulets and charms. He remembered as he had not for years the lupine tea they drank for Manhood, remembered the girls on the Station eating mushrooms to see if my true love lies, and his own watching of wood smoke that twisted north when the hunting would be good. Even Tall Kite had no longer really believed in the thousand tribal spirits of the upland and the plain, the grass, the insects, the deer and the hawk. And God, in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was no more than the price of chocolate milk. But in this hall, he had a pleasant feeling, relaxed, as though he was on a mountain all by himself.

1958 this was written, with loads of identity angst, as if it were published yesterday. John Running Tree moves like a folkloric wraith through New York City and tries to prevent Susan's defilement and death. The transgressiveness of the rape angle surprised us, as did the plot point that Tree kills by wire garrotte (not rope, as shown on the cover), but those added to the stakes of a harrowing and austere tale. Are there negatives? A few. Clad loses his tight control over the narrative from the moment Susan realizes—as she must—that Tree isn't just a nice guy hanging about for fun. Clad later forces the usage of Shoshone pictograms into a scene where the child mutely communicates an important clue. It might have worked under the right conditions, but in this case defied credulity. Other authorial errors accrue. Even so, good book. We'd read Clad again.
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Vintage Pulp Sep 28 2023
LAW AND THE JUNGLE
Human nature at its most savage.


This busy promo poster was made by Allied Artists for its drama The Human Jungle, which starred Gary Merrill as a tough cop who tries to whip his Jefferson Heights precinct into shape, both inside and outside the station house. Merill would rather transition out of police work and into the legal profession, but when he's tapped to cleanse the Heights he goes at it with a vengeance. His obstacles include lazy cops, emboldened delinquents, a hostile press, and a set of hardened criminals who feel impervious. Jan Sterling co-stars as a singer and dancer who might hold the key to putting a murderer behind bars. But Merrill will have to turn her first, and she's unwilling, to say the least.

For some people, the hardball tactics used by Merrill might bring to mind all the unlawful force settlements police departments nationwide constantly pay, because innocent people are always caught up in such crusades. For example, New York City paid out $143.2 million in civil rights damages in 2022, this despite the fact that prosecutors refuse to bring charges in about 95% of filed claims. But old movies avoid such sticky issues, and because they operated under censorship rules it's only criminals that hurt people, and Merrill comes out glorified and vindicated.

Add it up and what you get is an unoriginal and one-dimensional police drama that in this day and age feels greatly out of touch. Is there any reason at all to watch it? Maybe. It's pretty well made. It features young Chuck Connors as a heavy. It tries to mix in homelife strife in the form of Paula Raymond as Merrill's wife, and is reasonably successful on that front. The always interesting Sterling does a fun song and dance number that adds a little pep to the middle of the film. And there's a decent climax set in a brewery. Everything else in The Human Jungle is pretty limp. It premiered today in 1954.
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 23
1986—Otto Preminger Dies
Austro–Hungarian film director Otto Preminger, who directed such eternal classics as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder, Carmen Jones, The Man with the Golden Arm, and Stalag 17, and for his efforts earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, dies in New York City, aged 80, from cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
1998—James Earl Ray Dies
The convicted assassin of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., petty criminal James Earl Ray, dies in prison of hepatitis aged 70, protesting his innocence as he had for decades. Members of the King family who supported Ray's fight to clear his name believed the U.S. Government had been involved in Dr. King's killing, but with Ray's death such questions became moot.
April 22
1912—Pravda Is Founded
The newspaper Pravda, or Truth, known as the voice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, begins publication in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the country's leading newspapers until 1991, when it is closed down by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin. A number of other Pravdas appear afterward, including an internet site and a tabloid.
1983—Hitler's Diaries Found
The German magazine Der Stern claims that Adolf Hitler's diaries had been found in wreckage in East Germany. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a volume about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. But the diaries are subsequently revealed to be fakes written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger. Both he and Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann go to trial in 1985 and are each sentenced to 42 months in prison.
April 21
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
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