Intl. Notebook Aug 26 2022
BRAVO ENCORE
Back by popular demand.

Earlier this year we shared an issue of one of the prettiest mid-century celebrity magazines—West Germany's Bravo. We have pages from another issue, published today in 1956. We'll return to this publication a bit later.

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Modern Pulp Jun 12 2022
CLASH BY NIGHT
Caught between a rock and an ugly place.


A few days ago we wrote about the 1950 film noir Night and the City, and our poking around led to the discovery that the Blu-Ray edition comes with a box cover by one of our favorite modern artists Owen Smith. He first came to our attention because he painted covers for the Daniel Chavarría crime novels Adios Muchachos and Tango for a Torturer, and we see that he remains a unique stylist, perhaps even a modern pulp master. His depiction of star Richard Widmark trapped between tough guys Mike Mazurki and Stanislaus Zbyszko captures the essence of the movie without being an actual scene from it. We like the choice.

While Night and the City revolves around wrestling, it seems that Smith has been busy with another ring art—boxing. He's created quite a few works along those lines, and we've uploaded several below. We'd say he has the subject of men who've had the snot beaten out of them pretty well conquered. Finally, since we brought it up, we'd like to recommend—for adventurous readers—the aforementioned Chavarría novels. Due to our time living in Guatemala and traveling around the region we developed an interest in all things Cuba. He brings that island to life in a way few authors do. Read what we wrote about him here, and see more Smith here and here.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 9 2022
DAMNED YANKEE
An American con man in London.


Amazing that we haven't talked in detail about Night and the City yet, but all things in good time, and the time is now. Directed by Jules Dassin, this is one of the top entries in the film noir cycle, featuring Richard Widmark playing an American named Harry Fabian who's trying to hustle his way to riches in postwar London. Being a hustler, he long ago gave up the idea of working a fair job for a fair wage, and instead has been involved in so many spurious get-rich-quick schemes that nobody believes in him anymore. But when he stumbles upon the greatest greco-roman wrestler of all time, he cooks up a plot to take over wrestling promotion in London—and this scheme is a sure thing.

Widmark's performance hinges upon nervous energy and emotional desperation, as he shapes Harry Fabian into one of the greatest characters in the film noir annals, a man who's equal parts pitiable, ridiculous, and dangerous. He's the ultimate noir loser, a man who simply cannot see the forest for the trees. Gene Tierney, who any normal man would worship twenty-four hours a day, plays his girlfriend, beautiful and forbearing, but whose presence Fabian warps into yet another reason to grift his way to a fortune. He feels that a guy in his meager circumstances doesn't deserve her—which completely overlooks the fact that he already has her.

As Widmark tries to hold his caper together the rug is pulled from under him multiple times, yet like any serious hustler he manages to stumble improvisationally onward with lies and wishful thinking. His constant sowing of the seeds of his destruction is hard to watch, because as viewers we can see where and how he's going to fail—or possibly, just possibly, fate will grant him a miracle though he very much deserves to fail. One of the cool things about film noir is that its leads tend to be terribly flawed, but here Widmark is a human clearing house for bad character traits, and the worst of them is the one he has no control over—he was simply born under a bad star.

All in all Night and the City deserves its reputation. We have a few quibbles, but they're purely personal. For example, female leads in these old films often perform a song and Tierney's is atrocious, sadly. And if we were going to be very picky we'd add that it's also hard to buy the wonderful Tierney and the unctuous, work-averse Widmark as a couple, but of course, willing suspension and all that jazz requires that we go with it. The movie works even if Widmark refuses to. Give it a watch. You won't regret it. Night and the City had its world premiere today in 1950.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 17 2022
BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG CITTA
An American con man in London.


Above: a nice Italian poster for Jules Dassin's 1950 film noir Night and the City. The city is London, which proves to have numerous hazards for shady Richard Widmark. In Italy the movie was called I trafficanti della notte, then retitled Nella citta la notte scotta. You see both on the poster. Earlier promos exist that have only the first title, but we like this later one painted by Renato Casaro the most. It has a beautiful glowing cityscape in the background. Amazing work. We don't know why the title was changed, but the original translates as “the traffickers of the night," while the second is, “in the city the night is hot,” so maybe the distributors simply preferred the more poetic second title. We certainly do. We haven't talked about this movie yet, but we'll get to it a little later. It opened in Italy today in 1951.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 4 2021
HOUSE BROKEN
Small town jealousy leads to big time problems in Lupino noir classic.


Duh DUH duh duh DUH. He has a degree is philosophy...

Duh DUH duh duh DUH. He's broken over thirty bones...

Wait—wrong movie. That's the 1989 Road House, Patrick Swayze's unimprovable existential pugilistic epic. The movie we mean to discuss is the 1948 Road House, which premiered today and starred Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Celeste Holm, and Richard Widmark. Nobody destroys an automobile showroom by driving a monster truck through it. Instead Ida Lupino drives her monster truck through a couple of male egos and teaches them lessons about a woman's right to choose her own life—and her own man. This gimmick-free proto-feminist drama is an excellent example from the film noir genre, and it's exhibit A why Lupino is a legend. She's mighty good in this. Mighty mighty good.

Duh DUH duh duh DUH. She has a degree from the school of hard knocks...

Duh DUH duh duh DUH. She's broken over thirty hearts...

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Vintage Pulp Aug 13 2021
SEALED WITH A KISS
Victor Mature gets intimate with mortality in film noir classic.


This poster for the classic crime drama Kiss of Death both catches the eye and captures the mood of what has come to be regarded as a better film noir. The plot deals with a career thief and inveterate tough guy played by Victor Mature who decides to turn narc for the cops and help them gather evidence against numerous criminals. Needless to say, the decision turns out to have more pitfalls than expected, as he ends up in the crosshairs of a psycho hitman.
 
We've never been Mature fans—it's those cheeseball sword and sandal epics he made later in his career—but he's awfully good in this, deftly capturing the essence of a man feeling his way through desperate circumstances. Richard Widmark is also excellent as the hitman. He has a ridiculous but sinister laugh he uses to good effect. And Coleen Gray plays the embodiment of redemption, a standard role in these flicks, but one she manages adroitly. We'll have to rethink our feelings about Mr. Mature. If you haven't seen him before, this is a good place to start. Kiss of Death premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.

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Vintage Pulp Jul 18 2021
THE WOMAN IN 809
Monroe finds herself in a room with no space to maneuver.


It says plenty about Don't Bother To Knock that we queued it up last night, popcorn and adult beverages in hand, having forgotten that we already watched it several years ago. That has less to do with the overall film than with Marilyn Monroe, but we'll get to that in a minute. The film was based on Charlotte Armstrong's Mischief, which was serialized in 1950 in Good Housekeeping magazine, and deals with a mentally disturbed babysitter watching over a child in a fancy New York City hotel suite. Along with Monroe it stars Richard Widmark and Anne Bancroft, with their three characters suffering respectively from derangement, detachment, and disillusionment—three ailments suggested to be caused or exacerbated by life in the big city. Widmark as a cynical single looking for easy action and Bancroft as a world weary torch singer working the hotel lounge don't have any problems a change in luck wouldn't solve, but the movie revolves around Monroe, who, thirteen credited roles into her career at this point, gets a chance to stretch her range as a nutty nanny in need of a lot more than just kind words to get back on the beam.

Monroe's performance in this heavy drama is tough to judge. To us it feels a bit flat, but contemporary reviewers generally liked it, and it's fair to say it helped her climb that last rung to the superstardom she'd reach a year later with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Watch that film and you'll see that, while Don't Bother To Knock asked her to stretch, it did so by requiring that she suppress her natural charisma. That's no easy trick for an actor, let alone someone as incandescent as her, and that, in short, is probably why we forgot we'd already watched the movie. Monroe was so big in her other performances that this flick went down the memory hole. Her iconic movies feel as if they could only have starred her. This one feels like it could have starred anyone. Monroe just isn't Monroe in it. But that probably means her performance is a success. Watching it afresh, we can tell you it's certainly a must for Marilyn fans, and will probably work for vintage film fans of all types. But those unschooled in the oldies might walk away from this effort thinking, Meh, I don't get all the Monroe fuss. But the fuss was appropriate and deserved. Don't Bother To Knock—not a film noir as labeled on many sites, by the way—premiered today in 1953.

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Hollywoodland Apr 16 2020
DIRECT FROM HOLLYWOOD
They always get the best seat in the house.

Below, a collection of film stars, in Hollywood and other places, looking large and in charge while seated in director's chairs. In panel three the actress in the “Bonanza's guest” chair is Karen Sharpe. We don't expect you'll need help with the others, but if so our keywords list them in order.
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Vintage Pulp Apr 7 2019
DROGUE ADDICTS
We're hooked on this poster—and the movie too.


Le port de la drogue was better known as Pickup on South Street, a movie we raved about a little while ago. Its U.S. poster is pedestrian, but this promo for the French market was painted by Constantin Belinsky, and we think it's spectacular. He actually painted two posters, the second of which—not quite as nice because he was asked to copy the U.S. promo—appears below. We'd never heard of Belinsky before but we'll keep our eyes open for more of his work. Pickup on South Street premiered in the U.S. in 1953 and seems to not have made it to France until today in 1961. We aren't sure why it took so long, but the wait was worth it, because the movie is great.
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Vintage Pulp Jan 27 2019
KNOCKOUT ON SOUTH STREET
Widmark/Peters noir looks great and packs a punch.


It wouldn't be a film noir festival without at least one anti-commie thriller and Pickup on South Street is it. The movie stars Richard Widmark as a two-bit pickpocket who lifts a wallet during an NYC subway ride and unexpectedly ends up with a priceless government secret meant to be given to commie spies by a cabal of sweaty traitors. Widmark sneers his way into a position where he thinks he can sell the stolen info for fifty grand. He's got another think coming.

Best line: If you refuse to cooperate you'll be as guilty as the traitors that gave Stalin the A bomb!

Well, Stalin had help from spies but we don't think any gave him the bomb like a borscht recipe. He had help on other fronts as well, including from captured German scientists and homegrown Russian knowhow, but this is film noir, so go with it. The good team vs. bad team dynamic continues throughout, and numerous people try to convince Widmark to put his own interests aside and play for the home squad. They're wasting their breath.

The movie co-stars Jean Peters, a good actress and amazing knockout who's been a bit forgotten, even though she was in a few other good films and went on to marry nutball billionaire Howard Hughes. Her opening scene on a humid subway will stick with you. Sadly, she harbors yet another inexplicable film noir infatuation with a male lead who's about as nice as a sack of cold dick tips, but this is film noir so go with it. Ditto for the pushing and slapping Peters endures. She's even knocked cold by Widmark in their initial encounter. Deliberately.

His apology: You okay or did I bust something?

These sly flirtations increase Peters' ardor. The female heart wants what it wants, at least in the minds of wannabe-tough-guy Hollywood screenwriters. That screenwriter would be Samuel Fuller, who actually was acquainted with the underworld from his days as a crime reporter. So it could be that he knew more about gutter love than we do, but we doubt it. Here's what really matters—Peters absolutely kills her role, and does her own stunts too. Thelma Ritter, later of Rear Window, also gets a pivotal turn and nails her part as a tired older lady just trying to get by.

In the end Pickup on South Street comes full circle. While it's about patriotism, and trying to survive in New York City with zero means, and a weird kind of masochistic 1953 infatuation we'll never really understand, it starts with pickpocketing and eventually returns, in a symmetry that feels very modern in screenwriting terms, to that idea for the excellent climax. With Fuller directing and Joe MacDonald handling the cinematography, the final result is a knockout in both senses of the word—looks great, packs a punch.
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Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 07
1959—Dark Side of Moon Revealed
The Soviet space probe Luna 3 transmits the first photographs of the far side of the moon. The photos generate great interest, and scientists are surprised to see mountainous terrain, very different from the near side, and only two seas, which the Soviets name Mare Moscovrae (Sea of Moscow) and Mare Desiderii (Sea of Desire).
October 06
1966—LSD Declared Illegal in U.S.
LSD, which was originally synthesized by a Swiss doctor and was later secretly used by the CIA on military personnel, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and members of the general public in a project code named MKULTRA, is designated a controlled substance in the United States.
October 05
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
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