Vintage Pulp Nov 19 2019
WELL EXECUTED
MacDonald paves the way for two brilliant film adaptations.


John D. MacDonald's The Executioners should be studied in screenwriting classes as an example of what great movie minds can do with good base material. The book was made into two movies, both called Cape Fear, the first in 1962 with Robert Mitchum playing an iconic villain, and the second in 1991 with a lean and terrifying Robert DeNiro in the same role. You probably know the novel's basic set-up: a young man's testimony sends a savage rapist to prison, but years later as a middle-aged lawyer, he's astonished to find not only that the rapist has earned an early parole, but that he has one thing on his mind—revenge. MacDonald gets the entire backstory of the rape, trial, and imprisonment built in the first twenty pages, then kicks the tale into high gear as the hero tries to save his family from several potentially horrible forms of retribution.

The book is great, but even so it's of minimal scope compared to both film adaptations. The 1962 Cape Fear rearranged the book's climax into something more intense and physical, while the 1991 Cape Fear, which was directed by Martin Scorsese, took the pedophile sexual predator subtext of the novel and dragged all its dark ugliness right out into the open. Both adaptations made wise, bold choices, both were acclaimed by critics, and both pushed the envelope while daring audiences to endure the ride. So what you have here is a book that is among MacDonald's best, and two movies based upon it that are both among the best cinema of their era. That's some trick. We suggest you make time for all three. It will be well worth it.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 18 2013
TAXICAB CONFESSIONS
Scorsese and DeNiro drive the message home.

And as long as we’re on the subject of movie posters, above you see the amazing Japanese promo for Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro’s noir-influenced howl of anguish Taxi Driver. After being released Stateside in early 1976 it premiered in Tokyo today the same year, and it is simply one of the best pieces of cinema ever produced in the U.S. In a country where outrage is increasingly an accepted form of communication, its story of a broken soul trying to cope with his own formless anger—not using his mind, but using his gun—resonates ever more strongly each day. People see DeNiro’s character Travis Bickle differently. Some see him as a fairly regular guy. Others see him as a mutant. Maybe it depends on one’s own level of anger. Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader aren’t ambiguous about it—Bickle is a mutant who can blend in only because he’s surrounded by people so overworked or beaten down or self-involved or dwarfed by circumstance that they don’t notice that something is very wrong with him. Taxi Driver shows a man dealing with a sickness of anger, suggesting that the urge to commit violence is a cancer that could infest anyone if they aren't careful. It's a good message for times like these. 

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Modern Pulp Jun 24 2009
EARTH ANGEL
Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Above is the promo art for the June 24, 1987 Japanese premiere of Alan Parker’s supernatural thriller Angel Heart, a movie that happens to be one of our favorites around here. It’s based upon a novel by William Hjortsberg. That novel, a brilliant channeling of Hammett and Chandler titled Falling Angel, was nominated for an Edgar by the Mystery Writers of America. The film version is dark, violent, sexual, and unflinching. Most of the action was transplanted to New Orleans in place of the book’s New York setting, and that decision gave the film an ominous backdrop of jazz, rain, voodoo, bayou, and shadows, with a desperate protagonist wandering virtually lost in the center of it all.

When the film opened in the U.S. reviewers were impressed with the visual tapestry Alan Parker had constructed, but quite a few were unhappy with both Lisa Bonet’s sexually charged role and the lack of sympathetic characters in the narrative. But this is another of those films that has staying power. Mickey Rourke is brilliant as the rumpled detective Harry Angel, Bonet manages a brave performance in a difficult role, and Robert DeNiro is oily and secretly amused as Louis Cyphre, the client who knows so much more than he’s telling. In fact, if not for an almost ruinous special effects misstep in the final minutes, we’d call this movie a perfect piece of pulp cinema. But even with that one colossal error, this kind of hellride doesn’t come along often, which is why we appreciate it as a rare gem, now twenty-two years old.

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Modern Pulp Feb 7 2009
APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION
Robert De Niro was all the rage in this Martin Scorsese tour de force.

We flirted with the idea of saving this Japanese promo art for Raging Bull until this date next year, but then we stopped kidding ourselves, because, one—we lack self-discipline, and two—who's to say we'll even be here next year? So here you go. We’ll have more on this film later, but for now, just dig the art. Raging Bull premiered in Japan today in 1980.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
April 20
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
April 19
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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