Vintage Pulp Dec 28 2022
JOHNNY B. GONE
After she homicides Johnny, she's going to homicide everyone else who ever crossed her too.


We've returned to Steve Fisher, as we said we would, after reading his 1954 social drama Giveaway. We chose Homicide Johnny because of the title and the Rudolph Belarski cover art. The tale stars Johnny West, a cop in tiny Mamaroneck, New York, about to give up his badge for a private detective gig in far away San Francisco, but who's pulled into one last case. A priceless anti-streptococcic compound has been stolen, and West not only has to solve the crime, but must work with his ex-girlfriend, police investigator Penny Lane. She has a very good if not photographic memory—which is too bad for Johnny because she can't forget or forgive that time he cheated on her. Collaborating with someone who seems to despise you isn't easy, but without trust and cooperation a murderer just might generate more victims. Spoiler alert: he does. Despite Steve Fisher's good rep, we consider Homicide Johnny to be average, even with its unusual medical research backdrop and relationship tension. But there was nothing in it to discourage us from trying him again, so expect to see him here down the line. 

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Vintage Pulp Nov 18 2022
SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE
I plan to rise from soul crushing poverty into the soul crushing middle class, and if you play your cards right I'll take you with me.

This 1955 Bantam edition of Steve Fisher's 1954 novel Giveaway has a front by James Hill that's at once beautiful and sordid. We've always been drawn to this art, so after seeing the book around for years we finally decided it was time to give it a read. Fisher tells the story of a seventeen-year-old Midwestern runaway named Eddie Shelton who ends up in Los Angeles and meets a mother and daughter who make their living by selling prizes they win for appearing on (fictional) game shows such as Down Melody Street and Cookies or Cash. It's difficult to get on the shows because the producers prefer novices, rather than “pros.” Jane, the daughter in this duo, sees Eddie as her ticket to being booked on a show called Man and Wife that offers huge prizes, including a trip to Hawaii and a year's wardrobe. She's willing to do anything for the chance—even convince Eddie she's in love with him.

The allegory is strong with this book. It reminded us of They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, with its capitalist critique folded within the characters' constant hope that a jackpot will lift them out of their meager circumstances, but it's also indebted to Catcher in the Rye because it features the same sort of youngish character who thinks the entire world is phony bullshit. Like that book, Giveaway is written in first person with copious slang and the feel of trying to make sense of a confusing society. We saw it labeled somewhere as juvenile fiction. It isn't. It stars two teens, but the themes from veteran pulp magazine contributor, crime novelist, and screenwriter Fisher are adult, and overall he crafts a good tale. His screenplays include Dead Reckoning, Lady in the Lake, and Johnny Angel, so a foray into the criminal underworld with him is mandatory. We have one of his crime novels, so that'll be an upcoming read, and we'll report back.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 11 2022
SONG REMAINS THE SAME
Even Powell and Loy's legendary act was bound to get tired eventually.


There's nice Roger Soubie art on this French poster for Song of the Thin Man, the last of six movies in the Thin Man series, which premiered in the U.S. in 1947 and reached France today in 1948. After six sessions the concept might seem a little worn to some viewers, but it still has William Powell and Myrna Loy as the leads. The mystery involves the death of an orchestra musician and the search for a missing bandleader, which leads to Powell and Loy exploring New York City's jazz underground. It's an all-white underground spread across various clubs, gambling boats, and parties, populated by at least fifty musicians, none of them of color. Of all the sight gags in the movie, the barring of black musicians from a film revolving around the art form they invented is the most notable one of all, but that's mid-century moviemaking for you.

The jazz gimmick is useful anyway, because it gives the filmmakers the opportunity to have Powell—as upper class supersleuth Nick Charles—play the role of a fish out of water. He understands neither the hipster jazzcats nor their customs and slang, and in about half a decade probably turns into the white-haired bartender from The Wild One. Even so, he needs to find and unmask a murderer in order to free a wrongly accused acquaintance from police custody. In true Thin Man fashion, he quips his way through the proceedings, plays cagey with femmes fatales Marie Windsor and Gloria Grahame, and finally unveils the killer in a nightclub populated by all the suspects. Loy is reliable as always in the sidekick role, and even amusingly picks up a few words of hep lingo.

While Dashiell Hammett originated the two characters of Nick and Nora Charles, he didn't touch Song of the Thin Man. Instead it was written by veteran crime novelist Steve Fisher and comedy writer Nat Perrin. Their union, unlike Nick and Nora's marriage, is an uneasy pairing, though it's hard to put a finger on what exactly is wrong. The mystery has an interesting backdrop, but is never compelling, while the humor seems clunkier than in the past. Powell and Loy do their best, but the movie failed to earn back its production budget, and the franchise came to an end. There were screenwriting and production issues, but we suspect that the real culprit was simple boredom—slayer of movie series and marriages alike. Audiences had simply moved on. World War, generational cynicism, and the emergence of grittier cinema will tend to cause that. Song of the Thin Man premiered today in 1947.
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Vintage Pulp Sep 7 2020
DARLING VICKI
Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.


When we saw Jean Peters in 1953's Pickup on South Street, it was our first exposure to her, and we immediately knew we'd be seeking out more of her work later. Last night we watched another film of hers from 1953—the mystery Vicki, which is based on Steve Fisher's 1941 novel I Wake Up Screaming. Peters plays an up and coming New York City model and actress who's found murdered. The rest of the film, told partly in flashback, details her rise from obscurity to celebrated It girl, and the investigation that follows her killing. Jeanne Crain plays Peters' sister who's dedicated to finding the truth, and Richard Boone takes on the unusual role of an emotionally unstable lead detective whose assumptions affect his objectivity.

The movie plays like a partial retread of 1946's Laura, and like Gene Tierney's famed character Laura Hunt, Peters' aspiring superstar Vicki Reed has a profound effect on people even after her death, from broken hearts to poisonous resentment. But Vicki doesn't have the same atmosphere and narrative heft as Laura. Even though it's a mystery, there are no real surprises. Still, we've seen far worse films, and Peters' performance is fine, if not quite as enjoyable as her jaded working class beauty from Pickup on South Street. We recommend that film unreservedly, and Vicki cautiously. It premiered in New York City today in 1953 before going into national release on October 5.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 24
1967—First Space Program Casualty Occurs
Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov dies in Soyuz 1 when, during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere after more than ten successful orbits, the capsule's main parachute fails to deploy properly, and the backup chute becomes entangled in the first. The capsule's descent is slowed, but it still hits the ground at about 90 mph, at which point it bursts into flames. Komarov is the first human to die during a space mission.
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.
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