What evil lurks in the hearts of men? The psychologist knows!
We wanted to highlight once again the interesting output of Estudio MCP, which was the marquee under which Spanish artists Ramón Martí, Josep Clavé, and Hernán Pico worked. They created this poster for Retorno al abismo, known in English as Conflict, starring Humphrey Bogart. The movie was made during the height of public interest in psychology and attempts to portray a situation in which a man's subconscious distress manifests in unpredictable ways. The result is pretty hamfisted, but Bogart makes it work anyway because he's Bogart. We talk about the movie a bit more here. After opening in the U.S. in 1947, Conflict premiered in Spain today in 1947.
From moment to moment everything can change.
Donald MacKenzie's Moment of Danger, also known as Scent of Danger, appeared in 1959 as a Dell paperback with a front painted by the busy Robert McGinnis, always the man to employ for elevated cover art. In this case, his pistol packing, sarong clad femme fatale lounging behind a spider plant stands as a top effort. And by the way, we only know what a spider plant is because we have six large ones busily propagating around palatial Pulp Intl. HQ.
The tale follows a double-crossed jewel thief named Macbeth Bain (you gotta love that) who vows revenge on the partner who ditched him after a big heist and put the cops onto him. The double-cross is only half successful. The partner gets away with the loot, but through a stroke of luck, the evidence that was supposed to put Bain behind bars never materializes. Now he's free, furious, and tracking his missing partner from London to Gibraltar, Tangier, and Malaga, seeking to even the score. Along for the adventure is the partner's wife, also intent upon revenge after being ditched for another woman.
This is a densely written tale, heavy on narrative and light on dialogue, told from Bain's point of view as he struggles with fear of his uber-competent partner, and attraction toward his beautiful sidekick. He's a curious character, hard to like at first because his emotions range from anger at his betrayal to resentment that a woman is tugging at his heart, but you eventually root for him. The book ends almost anti-climactically, mid-scene at a crucial moment, but it remains a decent whirlwind thriller that passes through several exotic cities, and is worth the reading time, imperfections and all.
Hollywood agreed. The big brains out in Tinseltown liked Moment of Danger enough to option it and make it into a 1960 movie titled Malaga, starring Trevor Howard and Dorothy Dandridge. We'll definitely watch it because it's a noteworthy film, representing a rare leading role for an African American actress, and in fact was Dandridge's last movie. Our film watching résumé is a bit thin on the Dandridge front anyway, so we now have a good reason to address that. We'll of course report back.
It's never far below the surface of things.
Recently a friend bought a flat, and tucked away under some floorboards was a cache of fascist artifacts. You see one of those above—an oil portrait of Spain's fascist dictator Francisco Franco, clad in his generalissimo uniform, in the full bloom of power. The Spanish Civil War fueled so much literature. Hemingway, Orwell, Sartre, Ramón Sender, and Graham Greene all wrote important works about the war. You notice there's only one Spanish writer in that list? Obviously, due to censorship the best Spanish books came after Franco was gone, which puts them out of our purview, time-wise. But there are numerous Spanish writers who later tackled the subject brilliantly, for example Jesús Torbado.
We think these items we've posted today are excellent examples of real-world pulp. Just below is the yoke and arrows, an old symbol from the 1400s, adopted by the fascist Falange in 1934, and widely utilizedby the nationalist rebels during the Civil War. With the help of Hitler and Mussolini they prevailed in the conflict, after which the Falange became Spain's only legal political party, with the yoke and arrows one of its main symbols. This example is made of brass. Below that is a fascist flag, and you see the yoke and arrows on it, separated left and right on the bottom. This particular flag is not a perfect match with any we saw online, but it resembles the Spanish Army flag used between 1940 and 1945.
Since we were simply tagging along that morning to look at the newly purchased flat and hadn't expected to uncover any treasures, we weren't carrying a camera or cellphone. At first we asked our friend to shoot the items on his phone, but we quickly realized he didn't understand that we needed clear, steady imagery, so we took over the photography chores and had him and PI-1 hold the stuff. But somehow we got mixed up and didn't reshoot one of the items, and all we have is our friend's blurry shot of it.
That would be the panel below, which features PI-1 holding a cross and wreath of some sort that we've been unable to find anywhere online. We really wish we'd gotten a better photo of it, but by the time we looked at what we had, which was days later, our friend had given away everything.
The bullets need no explanation, but the pennant just above does. It was made for the Reunión Nacional de Instructores de Formación Politica—the National Meeting of Political Training Instructors—which was held in 1955 in Valencia. Obviously that was a convention to train educators in how to indoctrinate students into fascist ideas.
The next panel, just below, shows a pamphlet written by politican José Maria Codón titled La Familia en la Pensamiento de la Tradición, which means The Family in the Thought of Tradition, published in 1959. Fascists were all about traditional family, and of course that meant women had few rights, being reduced in the ideals of the Falange to little more than housewives and baby incubators.
The last panel, below, shows the portrait of Francisco Franco just after we found it, and we suggest that if you have a portrait of any living politician in your home and you're not related to him or her, you're pretty far gone. The portrait is signed, but we can't identify the artist. IL something or LL something. Not Cool J, though considering Franco's regime abducted 300,000 children and sold thousands of them to couples as far away as South America, a lot of people would have fared better with a rapper in charge. Actually, it isn't fair to LL Cool J to set the bar that low. He'd do fine period. You also see in that shot PI-1's shapely stems.
"Fascist" is the epithet du jour, but these artifacts were a reminder that important historical terms are cheapened by internet hoardes applying them to every school board head, municipal bureaucrat, and cable series showrunner with whom they disagree. Some leaders and personalities definitely deserve the label, obviously. As we mentioned above, our friend gave everything away, though we weren't clear whether it was wanted for academic or personal reasons. We thought perhaps a museum might be a good place for it all, but the items don't appear to have great value. For example, we found some Codón pamphlets on sale online for three euros. But even if they aren't worth much in cash, there was value for us in seeing them. We wouldn't have traded the morning for anything.
I know these regional airports lack the usual amenities, but a shuttle to the terminal sure would be nice.
We've mentioned before that we like to read books about places we've been, but we had no idea the 1960 thriller Seven Lies South was set in Spain and Morocco. We impulse-bought this 1962 Crest edition after seeing William P. McGivern's name and taking in the striking Harry Bennett cover art featuring a woman, an aircraft, two bedouins, and their camels. McGivern wrote the excellent 1961 juvenile delinquent thriller Savage Streets, so that was all we needed to know. We found out in the first page that the setting, as the story opened, was Malaga, Spain, and went, “Oh, okay—even better.”
The book stars Mike Beecher, a former bomber pilot, now in his late thirties and doing a belated Lost Generation bit—idleness, parties, a rotating cast of acquaintances, and a lot of solitary reflection in a foreign land. His Sun Also Rises-style fatalism is a little tedious, in our view. After all, he was never wounded in the sex organs like Jake Barnes, and if one's naughty bits function, there's always reason to smile. In any case, one day he meets a beautiful young woman named Laura Meadows, who embodies his dissatisfaction:
She symbolized everything that was unobtainable, beyond his reach; the rosy and prosperous life of America, with the tides of success sweeping everyone on to fine, fat futures.
But not everyone, of course. Entire ethnicities were excluded from that sweeping tide of success. Things are unobtainable for Beecher, but only because he's made a choice to reject them. What a luxury, to reject something, then bemoan what one “can't” have, when many people really can't have it. It's not a flaw in the book, so much as a cultural blind spot—perhaps deliberately inserted by McGivern, who was generally insightful about such issues. You have to sort of smile at Beecher's inability to appreciate being reasonably young, healthy, and knocking around the south of Spain drinking wine. Not everyone gets to do that. That's exactly what we do, and we appreciate it every day.
Beecher is coerced into helping to steal a plane headed for Morocco, but the mission goes wildly sideways, which unexpectedly mutates the narrative into a desert survival adventure. In order to set up and progress through this section, McGivern has his characters sometimes undertake actions that don't exactly resound with logic, but even so the book is good. McGivern can really write, even when it verges on the preposterous. He was more at home in the suburbs of Savage Streets, but he navigates the Spain and Morocco of Seven Lies South deftly enough. We have no hesitation about trying him again.
Bang bang, lovelies—there's a fab new sheriff in town.
Helga Liné's last name has an accent, which means it's pronounced not “line” but “lee-nay.” She was born in Germany as Helga Stern in 1932, but her family fled nazism and she grew up in Portugal, where her first exposure to show business was as a dancer and circus acrobat. It was after moving to Spain in 1960 that her film career took off. She appeared in many giallo, spaghetti western, and horror films, among them All'ombra di una colt, aka In a Colt's Shadow, Pánico en el Transiberiano, aka Horror Express, and Amanti d’Oltretomba, aka Nightmare Castle. The promo above is not one we can identify as from a particular film, but we do know the date—it was part of a session that produced a cover for the Spanish magazine Dígame in July 1965.
Whoa. This is going to sound incredible, but right now I'm looking at what has to be the biggest bird of all time.
Once again we decided to read a book about someplace we've been. We just enjoy reading descriptions of places from a lifetime ago that we happen to know personally. This time it was the Canary Islands, where we spent time about five years back, depicted in A.J. Cronin's novel Grand Canary. Unfortunately, this tale concerning an assortment of characters on a steamer headed Spainward was a bit of a slog. The cast was too typical: two missionaries, a drunk, a profane older lady, a beautiful young one, a gruff captain, etc. Grand Canary was originally published in 1933, so this idea wasn't a cliché back when Cronin wrote it, but in our view it still doesn't compare well to other books about disparate characters turning up in exotic ports. The main plot involves a broken doctor trying to escape a ruined past who finds himself smack in the middle of a yellow fever outbreak. Chance for redemption? Maybe. The art on this 1952 edition from Bantam is by Mitchell Hooks, and it's excellent.
The king of tabloids sets its sights on the Queen of Greece.
Every month when Confidential magazine hit newsstands, we imagine Hollywood celebrities receiving the bad news that they'd made the cover, and going, “Shit.” This issue published in January 1964 features Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Frank Sinatra, and Jill St. John. The first three members of that group probably took the news in stride, since they were all tabloid staples by then. St. John wasn't quite at their level, but her links with Sinatra kept her in the scandal sheets for a while too.
A person who wasn't used to Confidential's attentions was Frederica of Hanover, who at the time was Queen Consort of Greece—which is just a fancy way of saying she was married to the King of Greece. Confidential says she was a Nazi, a pretty serious charge, needless to say. Was she? Well, her grandfather was Kaiser Wilhelm II, as a girl she was a member of Bund Deutscher Mädel, which was a branch of the Hitler Youth, and she had brothers in the SS. Also, back in 1934 Adolf Hitler wanted to link the British and German royal houses, and tried to pressure Frederica's parents into arranging for the seventeen-year-old girl to marry the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII. And as Queen Consort she made a habit of meddling in Greek politics in ways that made clear she was not a fan of democracy. None of that is a particularly good look.
She had defenders, though, who believed that for a person in her position it would have been impossible not to have been a member of certain groups and to have socialized with Nazis. It's interesting, isn't it, how the rich and powerful always benefit from a special set of excuses? People can't really expect her to have made a stand, can they? But the excuse is hollow. As a high ranking royal she could have avoided anything she wished. Membership in organizations when she was a little girl is one thing, but as an adult she could have denounced Nazism with damage to her reputation the only potential result. A damaged reputation is no small thing, but if we expect resistance from people who'd have been imprisoned or shot for doing so, we should probably expect the same from people who would have suffered mostly dirty looks.
Confidential focuses on Frederica's July 1963 visit to England. The visit was no big surprise—Frederica, her husband King Paul of Greece, Queen Elizabeth, and her husband Prince Philip, were all related. They were all direct descendants of Queen Victoria. Monarchy is a funny thing, isn't it? The visit triggered a protest of about three thousand British leftists that was violently broken up by five thousand police. The protestors carried banners that said, “Down with the Nazi Queen.” After mentioning this fiasco, Confidential delves into Frederica's history, some of which we've outlined above, then loops back to the protests, which she blamed on the British press. But she had already reached a level of notoriety that usually brought out protestors who loudly booed her, particularly in Greece. She eventually retreated from public life, became a Buddhist, and died early at age sixty-three.
Confidential's unexpected exposé on Frederica wasn't out of character for the magazine. It was the top tabloid dog in a very large kennel. It had an expansive staff, serious reporters, hundreds of informers spread across the U.S. and Britain, and published stories about heavy hitters from all sectors of society. It had a regressive political agenda, as its article filled with terrible slander against gays and lesbians makes clear, but even with its rightward slant it took pains to keep its reporting framework factual. That makes it a priceless source of contemporaneous info about public figures, particularly of the Hollywood variety. We doubt we'll ever stop buying it, because we never know who we'll find inside. Twenty-plus scans below.
Anything could happen there and it usually did.
We're drawn to books about places we know, so Camilo José Cela's The Hive was a natural. Originally published in 1950 and titled La colmena, the tale is largely set in a Madrid bar known as Doña Rosa's Café. There are also scenes set in apartments, streets, and other cafés, as Cela explores the lives of more than three-hundred characters in brief sketches, slowly weaving these warp and weft strands into a tapestry that ultimately represents a single character—Madrid circa 1943. Maybe that doesn't sound thrilling, but we liked it. Cela was economical yet vivid, like here, at closing time for the café:
Within half an hour the café will be empty. It will be like a man who has suddenly lost his memory.
And here, about a boy who survives by singing on the street:
He is too young in years for cynicism—or resignation—to have slashed its mark across his face, and therefore it has a beautiful, candid stupidity, the expression of one who understands nothing of anything that happens. For [him] everything that happens is a miracle: he was born by a miracle, he eats by a miracle, has lived by a miracle, and has the strength to sing by pure miracle.
Cela was a fascist, a supporter of Francisco Franco's dictatorship. His beliefs came with contradictions, for example he worked as a censor for the government, was himself banned so that The Hive had to be published first in Argentina, yet remained loyal to the regime that had financially and reputationally harmed him. He even became an informer. In Cela's writing there's humor, but also coldness, a sense of observing small and pathetic people. For someone born into material comfort in a Spain where many families retain unearned wealth for hundreds of years, his subtle judgements came across to us as cruel, the product of a person who looked closely at everyone but himself. The book isn't overtly political, though, which makes it easier to focus on the skill that eventually won him a Nobel Prize.
The edition you see here is from Ace Books in 1959 with an uncredited cover. We went back and forth on this artist. We want to say it's Sandro Symeoni, but we don't have enough cred to make that call definitively. It looks like some of the items he painted, but publishing companies sometimes sought art of similar styles, or directed illustrators to produce something similar to what another artist had provided. During the late 1950s and early ’60s Ace Books had many covers in this general style. That said, compare the close-ups below. The first is from the above cover, and the rest are from confirmed Symeonis. If The Hive wasn't painted by the same person, then whoever did paint it went beyond merely working in a similar style—he was a thief.
Walk a city's streets and you never know what you'll find.
We were wandering around town earlier today, and what did we spy outside a sundries shop but a stack of vintage reading material. Wedged between English teaching books and bags of sawdust was a stack of José Mallorquí and Keith Luger paperbacks, and there were even more inside. All of which reminded us that we had posted something from Luger—aka Miguel Oliver Tovar—years ago, which can see at this link. We didn't buy any of today's pile, but we may mosey back round that way another morning and pick up a few. After all, why not? They're cheap as hell. Also, we want to know why people buy bags of sawdust, and we can only find out by going back to the store and asking. The overarching theme, though, is this: it's nice to be living in a city where we can find a bit of pulp style treasure just by taking a stroll. For years that wasn't the case. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1908—Tunguska Explosion Occurs
Near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai in Russia, a large meteoroid or comet explodes at five to ten kilometers above the Earth's surface with a force of about twenty megatons of TNT. The explosion is a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic blast, knocks over an estimated 80 million trees and generates a shock wave estimated to have been 5.0 on the Richter scale.
1971—Soviet Cosmonauts Perish
Soviet cosmonauts Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev, who served as the first crew of the world's first space station Salyut 1, die when their spacecraft Soyuz 11 depressurizes during preparations for re-entry. They are the only humans to die in space (as opposed to the upper atmosphere).
1914—Rasputin Survives Assassination Attempt
Former prostitute Jina Guseva attempts to assassinate Grigori Rasputin in his home town of Pokrovskoye, Siberia by stabbing him in the abdomen. According to reports, Guseva screamed "I have killed the Antichrist!" But Rasputin survived until being famously poisoned, shot, bludgeoned, and drowned in an icy river two years later.
1967—Jayne Mansfield Dies in Car Accident
American actress and sex symbol Jayne Mansfield dies in an automobile accident in Biloxi, Mississippi, when the car in which she is riding slams underneath the rear of a semi. Rumors that Mansfield were decapitated are technically untrue. In reality, her death certificate states that she suffered an avulsion of the cranium and brain, meaning she lost
only the top of her head.
1958—Workers Assemble First Corvette
Workers at a Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan, assemble the first Corvette, a two-seater sports car that would become an American icon. The first completed production car rolls off the assembly line two days later, one of just 300 Corvettes made that year.
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