Cold War spies make waves in the City of Canals.
The Venetian Affair, which premiered today in 1966, has a rather interesting promo poster. It was painted by U.S. artist Frank McCarthy, who was big in paperback covers early in his career, moved into high-budget movie promos such as James Bond posters, and finally made a mark in realist fine art. We love this piece from him. There's a lot going on. If you check out his effort for You Only Live Twice here you'll see how dense and chaotic his work could be, same as above, where he has people falling off the bridge, off the gondola, and guns being brandished everywhere. In addition, his likenesses of the movie's stars are good. He was a major talent.
The first observation you might make while watching The Venetian Affair is that it would be impossible to make a similar movie in that city today. Nearly four million tourists visited Venice in 2022, making nearly every street—and certainly every site of special historical note—like the mass exodus from a just-completed football game. With that level of humanity about, closing parts of the city or main squares—while maybe possible—would not be practical or economical.
But The Venetian Affair was made back when quiet streets and dark corners existed. Old world architecture always makes for a good spy movie backdrop. That's exactly what you get in this adventure about a mind control drug being used to foment conflict between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Robert Vaughn stars as a former CIA agent who was fired after he married Elke Sommer, who was suspected of being a double agent. Vaughn never found out whether that was true because he and Sommer were torn apart by turbulent events. But when a bomb blows up a Venice political conference and Sommer is thought to be involved, the CIA drags Vaughn back into its clutches to find Sommer, as well as the crucial clue that might explain the bombing.
Vaughn is a cool and composed actor, any movie with Sommer is one we'll watch, and co-stars Felicia Farr, Luciana Paluzzi, Ed Asner, and the venerable Boris Karloff are all enticements, but we can't say The Venetian Affair is a scintillating example of a Cold War spy flick. It's such a fertile sub-genre, one that produced some of the best movies of 1950s through 1970s. Even against the beautiful Venice backdrop it mostly falls flat due to a screenplay that never hits any highs. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch it. Though it lacks highs, it also lack any serious lows. You can spend your time worse ways. Plus—Sommer. What more do you need?
It's a must-have item for the fashion forward femme fatale.
Caviar et vodka, which is credited to Bob Toomey and is the first entry in French publisher SEF's Police Sexy series, came in 1978. That's late for our website, and we also tend to avoid photo covers, but the black-coated killer lady wearing nothing beneath her fur but some heavy steel makes it an appropriate share. The story is less police than espionage, having to do with a trio of Russian spies (interestingly named Elvire, Debrisse and Natacha) up to dastardly doings during the hottest period of the Cold War. Bob Toomey, a far less interesting name, was a pseudonym, but we can't trace it to its origin. There's a review of the book online and it isn't flattering, so maybe “Toomey” had only this one shot before being flushed out of the bottom of French publishing. In any case, cool cover.
The decline and incineration of Western civilization.
These covers for Pat Frank's acclaimed post apocalypse drama Alas, Babylon can be considered additions to our collection of nuclear explosion book covers. In the story, a missile from a fighter jet causes an explosion in Syria that the Soviets mistake for a full scale NATO nuclear strike. They retaliate with a full strike, the U.S. retaliates with a full strike, and that's all she wrote. Actually, not really. That's the first act. Frank wrote plenty more, none of it fun. The novel first appeared in 1959, with these not-quite-identical Bantam editions coming later. We may have missed them in our initial searches for nuke covers because they're pretty subtle, combing the idea of a red sun with an atomic blast, but we're sure these are supposed to be explosions—or at least evoke them. There's also a very cool Spanish cover we posted way back in 2009. No explosion on that one, but it's exceedingly interesting.
Tabloid crosses line between science and science fiction.
Our examples of the cheapie tabloid National Examiner all have art on their front pages, but when you have a scoop like this cow blockbuster, typography alone is more than adequate. Needless to say—but we'll do it anyway because in this millennium people believe in illuminati pedophile rings in pizza parlors—a cow never gave birth to a baby boy. Hope that wasn't disappointing to hear. The story, from this issue that hit newsstands today in 1967, claims that it happened in Russia when a woman named Natasha Kropotkin was critically ill and her fetus was transferred to a cow in order to save its life. The fetus, not the cow. Anyway, the achievement stands second only to the launch of Sputnik in Soviet scientific annals. Kropotkin is a Russian word meaning gullible, by the way. If the child had been real, though, he'd be in his fifties today, and we imagine him working in the field of animal husbandry, middle management level. Medically speaking, other than involuntarily mooing at times of stress and having a tremendous problem with gas, we picture him as normal in every way. He'd also be hung like a bull. Elsewhere inside Examiner are many more bizarre stories, and a couple of nice photos of Italian actress Maria Grazia Bucella. You can see plenty more mid-century tabloids in our comprehensive index located here.
One motivated American outsmarts an entire cabal of communists in Spillane crime drama.
Mickey Spillane's 1951 red scare caper One Lonely Night is, on one hand, classic Spillane starring his franchise sociopath Mike Hammer, but on the other, silly, polemical, and painfully dated. Mike Hammer the insane killer is kind of likeable, but Mike Hammer the insane killer with a political agenda is a bit tedious. Hammer's anti-commie pronouncements usually come across like set-ups for punchlines, as if he might go, “Just kidding! If we're comparing body counts we capitalists are running neck and neck with you! Gen-o-cide! Sla-vuh-ree!” But nope—Hammer remains both privileged and aggrieved throughout. In that way he's a very modern character. Since Spillane clearly thought Soviet influence in America was a serious threat he at least should have populated this violent slog through NYC's leftist underground with canny commies. But when they're this sloppy, why worry? Oh well. We'll always have Kiss, Me Deadly.
Albert Camus' fatal 1960 auto accident may have been a KGB assassination.
Italian author Giovanni Catelli has just published a book that claims French writer Albert Camus was assassinated by the KGB, rather than dying in an auto accident, as largely believed. When you say the words “Cold War intrigue,” we're all in, so the story caught our eye. Catelli's theory, which he first began airing in 2011, is that the KGB silenced Camus because he was a globally famous figure who made a habit of criticizing the Soviet Union. The order was allegedly given by Dmitri Shepilov, the USSR’s minister of internal affairs, after Camus slammed him in the French newspaper Franc-Tireur in March 1957. Camus died in 1960, so the killing took three years to come to fruition, according to Catelli.
His book length argument, La mort de Camus, is getting white hot press right now, however it's very interesting to look back at contemporary articles about the crash. Camus was riding as a passenger in a car driven by his publisher Michel Gallimard, with Gallimard's wife Janine and their daughter Anne in the rear seat. Michel Gallimard died, but his wife and daughter survived to describe the crash. Michel was driving fast and had been told to slow down, and had drunk wine at dinner.
A gander at the wreckage of the heavy Farcel Vega HK500 attests to its speed. We checked the various articles popping up online and found none that mentioned either the velocity of the car or the drinking of the driver, but that's how the internet works—a fantastic claim circles the world five times faster than anything resembling balance or a fact check.
Catelli, though, has an answer for the reckless driving theory—the Soviets had attached a device to the car that would puncture a tire only in the event of sufficient speed. If the Soviets came up with the device described, it would not kick in without the added ingredient of driver haste, which often happens in conjunction with alcohol consumption, which in turn is a near certainty when talking about French people, all of which means the chances of a crash with muddied circumstances were pretty high. The device, if it ever existed, was certainly clever. It would be like a device that tied your shoelaces together, but only if you went downstairs in a rush, and you happened to live in a fourth floor flat with a balky elevator.
Catelli's belief that Camus was disposed of via assassination is bolstered by the fact that the car he was riding in somehow careened off a stretch of straight road thirty feet wide. Nobody described Michel Gallimard trying to dodge a hedgehog or pothole, so despite speed and possible drunkenness, some unforeseen factor seems required to send the vehicle into the weeds. On the other hand, three years is a long time to enact a death plot. We've seen Yankees and Red Sox fans patch their shit up in less time. But let's move this death from the settled bin into the mysterious bin, which is where we like everything to be anyway. Camus, the famed absurdist, once wrote that, “There can be nothing more absurd than to die in a car accident.” And if Catelli is correct, nothing can be more convenient either.
Nobody knows who'll win the game of Thorne's.
Yes, she's back. These posters were made for the 1977 naziploitation flick Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia, starring the inimitable Dyanne Thorne dealing out discomfort and death in the icy wastes of Gulag 14. In 1975's Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS she was a member of the Third Reich, but here, only eight years after the Reich cratered, she's somehow employed by the Nazis' mortal enemies the Soviets. She must have nailed the interview.
Interviewer: “What's your greatest strength, professionally?”
Ilsa: “Creatively making people suffer. Like the electrified dildo I invented at a previous gig. That's standard gear for torture now. Stress positions, beatings. I mean, I love it all.”
Interviewer: “What would you say is your biggest weakness?”
Ilsa: “I sometimes work too hard. I'm a perfectionist. In a way, I'm harder on myself than I am on the people I torture.”
Interviewer: “Tell me about a challenge in a work situation, and how you dealt with it.”
Ilsa: “I had a prisoner who was problematic. His positivity was bringing hope to the camp. I had him castrated.”
Interviewer: “And did this solution work?”
Ilsa: “Yes, he became very negative.”
Interviewer: “I think I've heard enough. When can you start?”
Ilsa: “I already did. I took the initiative and killed the other applicants in the waiting room."
It's amazing that the first Ilsa flick generated two sequels, considering how bad it was. This third entry in the series actually played at the Sitges Film Festival in October 2018, which just goes to show that interest in terrible vintage sexploitation films runs beyond the fringe. We think this movie is almost as bad as the original, but you can decide for yourself. After opening in Canada in 1977, Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia premiered in Japan today in 1978.
There's life on Earth. But is it intelligent life?
And speaking of Halloween frights, there's a theory in science that's gaining traction of late. Maybe you won't find this interesting but we did. First consider that even with life sustaining conditions assumed to be incredibly rare, cosmically speaking, the fact that almost every observed star has planets leads to the estimate of 100 billion planets in our galaxy. That number renders the long odds of perfect life generating conditions moot—there are certainly millions of planets with life, probably many thousands with intelligent life, and virtually any scientist you talk to outside of a political environment will tell you that. So why haven't we detected anything? The age of the civilization is a factor, distance is a second factor, point of origin of signal emission is another, and the perfect timing for us intercept a signal is yet another.
But here's the theory: a civilization advancing to the point that it can emit signals into space is a function of technological development, which in turn hinges on energy. Whatever form an alien race takes, it must advance through stages of energy generation. And since nuclear physics are a constant throughout this universe, every advancing civilization will eventually discover nuclear power. It's the most obvious energy form of all, because every sun in every sky shines as an example of it. It's possible that very few civilizations survive advancing through the various stages of dirty and dangerous energy generation. Nearly all collapse their ecosystems, which in turn leads to extinction. Just some food for thought this lovely Thursday as you look at these photos of a Russian nuclear test at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, conducted today in 1951.
It was full speed ahead in the Cold War.
This spectacular photo shows the test of a nuclear torpedo detonated today in 1955 by the Soviet Union at Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago above the Arctic Circle. The weapon sent a massive debris cloud erupting into the atmosphere, which you can see in a video here. It was one of seven tests the Soviets conducted that year, and they and the United States were just getting heated up in their insane nuclear race.
Ban the bomb! The other side's bomb, we mean.
Soviet painter Nikolai Litvinov was a prolific producer of political art during the Cold War. Above you see one of his efforts—an anti-nuclear poster from printers Sovetsky Khudozhnik with text that reads: “May There Be Peace!” This is from 1959, but we've seen some purported to be from 1961, so if that's the case these were probably made throughout the early Cold War. Blaming the other side for the nuclear arms race was of course the same strategy employed by the U.S. We're going to get back to Litvinov shortly. In the meantime, you can see more Soviet propaganda here, some U.S. propaganda here, and a mixture from several countries here. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1965—UFO Reported by Thousands of Witnesses
A large, brilliant fireball is seen by thousands in at least six U.S. states and Ontario, Canada as it streaks across the sky, reportedly dropping hot metal debris, starting grass fires, and causing sonic booms. It is generally assumed and reported by the press to be a meteor, however some witnesses claim to have approached the fallen object and seen an alien craft.
1980—John Lennon Killed
Ex-Beatle John Lennon is shot four times in the back and killed by Mark David Chapman in front of The Dakota apartment building in New York City. Chapman had been stalking Lennon since October, and earlier that evening Lennon had autographed a copy of his album Double Fantasy for him.
1941—Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor
The Imperial Japanese Navy sends aircraft to attack the U.S. Pacific Fleet and its defending air forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. While the U.S. lost battleships and other vessels, its aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbor and survived intact, robbing the Japanese of the total destruction of the Pacific Fleet they had hoped to achieve.
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