In Casablanca no other place compares.
We're back in the house today—Casablanca, that is. Several days ago, on the film's Italian premiere date, we showed you some Italian posters, and today, on its U.S. premiere date, we're taking a close look at possibly the most famous fictional bar in cinema history—Rick's Café Americain. Casablanca is one of the greatest films ever made, and it's fair to say Rick's was a supporting character. Filmgoers of 1942 found themselves steeped in its otherworldly Moroccan atmosphere, as scenes were staged in its courtyard, dining room, gambling room, at its lively bar, and in Rick's roomy upstairs office and personal living quarters. We've never confirmed this, but we suspect one third of the film occurs inside Rick's Café. We have photos of every area we could find of this iconic and exotic “gin joint”—as Bogart cynically describes it—and we even turned up a blueprint. You'd be tempted to think bars like Rick's exist only in film, but you'd be wrong. We've been to places that have exotic architecture, excellent food and drink, lively musical entertainment, well dressed internationalclientele, and the aura of being in the middle of a spy caper. The decadent colonial bar Abaco, located in Palma de Mallorca, comes immediately to mind, as does the supper club Meson Pansa Verde in Antigua, Guatemala, where they have live jazz in a converted wine cellar and a friend of ours once famously pushed his date into the pool. We've been to Rick's-like places in Mexico, the Caribbean, the Greek Islands, and, appropriately, Morocco, in both Fes and Marrakech (we're not fans of the Rick's that currently operates in Casablanca—same name, very diminished feel). But magical places do exist, which means even if Bogart's beloved café was never real, having those types of nights is possible. We recommend making it your mission to seek them out.
It's mostly for his protection, but it's also for everyone else's.
We read the novel The Mask of Dimitrios a couple of years ago, so it was a given we'd eventually talk about the movie. Starring Petter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, it deals with a legendary malefactor named Dimitrios Makropoulos who washes up dead on a Turkish beach and draws the interest of a novelist, who decides to research the dead man's life with an eye toward writing a thriller about it. That's a great set-up for a movie right there, and it's even cooler because everything happens in Europe. Lorre, who plays the author, traces the movements of Dimitrios the bogeyman from Istanbul, to Athens, to Sofia, and finally to Paris, seeking to illuminate the man's life and criminal career.
Flashbacks tell us how evil Dimitrios was. Nothing was beyond him—theft, blackmail, political crimes, murder. We're talking irredeemable badness, a virus, a plague. Lorre and Greenstreet cross paths and decide to unravel the Dimitrios mystery together. Its solution offers the possibility of financial reward—one million francs. Lorre is less interested in those than a story he can turn into a great novel, but money up front never hurts. Unless it gets you killed. But while the flashbacks offer crucial exposition, they also shift focus from the film's two unique leads, and in so doing sap the narrative of momentum. They could have been shorter. More screen time for Lorre and Greenstreet would have been the benefit.
The Mask of Dimitrios is classified as a film noir on many websites, but as a drama on AFI.com, which is where we go for genre clarity because crowd sourced sites like Wikipedia and IMDB cast an excessively wide net with their categorizations. Some readers may disagree about whether this particular film is a noir, but what's true is it doesn't have a large number of the usual noir gimmicks, save for those interminable flashbacks, and occasional clever work with shadows. It almost entirely lacks other forms of noir iconography, and particularly lacks the key element of a disaffected central character or character that's screwed and gets more screwed as the plot progresses. On the other hand most of the players are shady and/or amoral.
We know what you're thinking. We aren't a pure pulp site, so how can we be purists about film noir? We're not. We tell you right in the “About Us” section that we're expanding the idea of pulp just for our personal pleasure, not trying to convince readers to redefine it in defiance of what is understood to be pure pulp. Going into The Mask of Dimitrios expecting film noir might lead to disappointment for noir fans, so we're just letting you know where the movie stands. It has its charms, regardless, but overall it's decent, not good, and certainly falls short of being excellent. Even so, watching old crime movies is incredibly satisfying, even when they aren't top notch. The Mask of Dimitrios premiered in today in 1944.
Aussie magazine delves into love, sex, war, crime, and more.
We're back to Man's Epic today, a difficult to find Aussie adventure magazine published by K.G. Murray Co., the same group responsible for the amazing Adam magazine. K.G. Murray Co.'s provenance goes all the way back to 1936, when an Aussie advertising worker named Kenneth Gordon Murray launched Man magazine from offices in Sydney, and its mix of adventure, cartoons, and women caught on with readers. Murray expanded and would eventually publish Man Junior, Cavalcade, Gals and Gags, Adam, and numerous other titles. By 1954 the company was churning out eighteen monthly publications.
Man's Epic, which is not related to the U.S. men's magazine of the same name, came in October 1967, and switched to bimonthly in 1971, with the above issue published to span May through June 1973. Unfortunately, Man's Epic died in late 1977 or possibly early 1978, at the same time numerous men's magazines were withering with the changing times. Murray's umbrella company Publishers Holding Ltd. had become targeted in a takeover bid that resulted in K.G. Murray Co. being sold to Australian Consolidated Press, or ACP. After that point Murray's magazines were shuttered one by one by their new owners.
We're fans of Man's Epic, though this is only the second issue we've managed to buy. Inside you get articles about practitioners of warcraft, a story on motorcycle accidents that doesn't spare the carnage, and various models whose identities are new to us. There's also a lengthy feature on shocking sex rites, including a bit on San Simón, aka Maximón, the Mayan trickster deity native to our former beloved home of Guatemala. We once took a long drive from Guatemala across Honduras with an effigy of Maximón in the vehicle, and we learned about his trickster nature firsthand.
That story, by the way, was penned by Jane Dolinger, a trailblazing travel writer who ventured everywhere from the Sahara to the Amazon and wrote eight books, but is perhaps a bit forgotten today. The editors make sure readers know Dolinger is hot by publishing a glamour photo of her, which is a pretty sexist move, though she posed for provocative shots often. Meanwhile her framing of other cultures' sexual practices as abnormal is textbook racism. Abandon all hope ye who enter this magazine!
Divorce probably would have been the easier option.
Conflict was Humphrey Bogart's follow-up to the crowd pleasing To Have and Have Not, and he takes a dark turn as a man whose bad marriage is complicated by the fact that he's fallen in love with his sister-in-law. He's willing to kill to be free, but his plan goes sideways, as they always do. We won't go into detail except to note that, interestingly, Bogart begins to see the same jumbled pyramidal shape everywhere—in a pile of fallen logs, in an architectural drawing, in the kindling set up to start a bonfire, etc. It's a Hitchcockian touch designed to symbolize the inner conflict of the title, but why exactly is he seeing these things? Is it because he killed his wife? Or because he botched his opportunity and now she's trying to drive him insane? We won't tell you. We'll only say that the winding road toward a resolution is reasonably entertaining, and Bogart can pull even a flawed film to the positive side of the ledger. Conflict, which co-starred Alexis Smith and Sydney Greenstreet, premiered in the U.S. today in 1945.
From out of a clear blue sky.
This photo is from an archive maintained by Sydney Living Museums and shows a dead man in a public toilet in Sydney, Australia. Police records are incomplete, but suggest he fell from a footpath atop a wall located above the enclosure. It was a brutal fall. The man's right leg snapped just above the ankle and spots of blood are on his shirt, indicating a possible cranial fracture. While the report is vague about the man, it's clear about his bottle—it's Waterbury’s Compound, a tonic and cough remedy popular then and still in existence today. In contrast to the man, the bottle is intact. We wonder if he was reading the label and didn't watch where he was walking. Texters beware. The photo was shot around 1937 or 1938.
Crime pays with a series of beautiful mugshots.
Above is a collection of police booking photos of women arrested in Sydney, Australia during the late 1910s to early 1930s. These were originally shot and developed using a dry glass plate process, warehoused for decades, unearthed several years back, and shared online by Sydney Living Museums. They weren't curated as a women-only group—we grabbed only women because we were struck by their remarkable faces. We also like the last shot, just above, which features a mystery figure in the background keeping her or his—looks like a dude to us—face lowered.
Charges on the group range from robbery, to “attempting to procure a miscarriage on behalf of a third party,” to plain old murder. You notice a booking photo was a little different back then. Full body framing in open rooms was common. Because of the composition, shallow focus, and hyper-detailed glass plate process, these are (presumably accidental) art shots. They serve as a companion collection to the previous set of Australian mugshots we shared, which you can see here. You'll notice we've repeated a couple, which means you can learn specifically what they did to get arrested.
A stranger in strange lands comes to know pure evil.
Because Eric Ambler's 1939 thriller The Mask of Dimitrios is the source of the 1944 film noir of the same name starring Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, we should have read it long ago, but better late than never. The book tells the story of a writer in Istanbul who becomes interested in a killer, smuggler, slaver, and political agitator known as Dimitrios Makropoulos. In hopes of finding inspiration the writer begins to piece together the life of this mystery man.
The investigation carries him from Istanbul to Sofia to Geneva and beyond. That sounds exotic, but the story is almost entirely driven by external and internal dialogues, with little effort spent bringing alive its far flung locales. While we see that as a missed opportunity, and the book could be shorter considering so much of the aforementioned dialogue fails to further illuminate matters, it's fascinating how Dimitrios is slowly pieced together. Here's a line to remember, as the main character Latimer reflects upon the modern age and what the world is becoming:
“The logic of Michelangelo's David and Beethoven's quartets and Einstein's physics had been replaced by that of The Stock Exchange Yearbook and Hitler's Mein Kampf.”
That isn't one you'd soon forget. Ambler sees casino capitalism and Nazism as twin signposts on a road to perdition built by people like Dimitrios. We can't even imagine that being written by a popular author today without controversy, but Ambler, writing in England during the late 1930s, had zero trouble identifying exactly what he was looking at. This Great Pan edition of The Mask of Dimitrios appeared many years later in 1961, and it has unusual but effective cover art from S. R. Boldero.
Aussie publisher beats the life out of a classic Howell Dodd cover.
Didn't we just share a cover for Whip Hand? We did, but that was a totally different book. That was Whip Hand by W. Franklin Sanders, 1961, and this one is Whip Hand! by Hodge Evens, 1952. And as you can see below, this is yet another book for which the art was copied by a foreign publishing company—Sydney, Australia based Star Books, in 1953. It may seem impossible that Dodd didn't know of this, but back then it was indeed likely he had no clue. And even if he did know, there's little he could have done. Whoever painted this was not credited, and why would they be? Compared to Dodd's original it's pretty limp.
Horwitz uses its best known cover star to date.
American actress and dancer Debra Paget appears, quite strikingly, on the front of Carter Brown's Stripper You've Sinned, which was published in 1956. We've been speculating for a while whether Horwitz, headquartered 7,500 miles away from Hollywood in Sydney, Australia, licensed its celebrity covers. Our assumption has always been no. The idea of celebrity covers would be, ostensibly, to generate extra interest in the book. But if that's the case, why such obscure stars? There's really no extra publicity to gain, and a licensing fee to lose. So we've always suspected the celebs were chosen merely because they were beautiful and the shots were available as handout photos.
But now we aren't sure about that, because Paget breaks the pattern—she was pretty well known in 1956, having appeared in more than a dozen films, and in highly billed roles in a few of those productions. So now we're thinking Horwitz actually did license these images. The fees must have been tiny, though, otherwise it wouldn't make any sense fiscally. Horwitz could have put an equally beautiful Aussie model on the book covers and gotten the same result with less hassle. In any case, this is great imagery. If you want to know what the book is actually about, check the review here. And if you click the keywords “Horwitz Publications” below you'll see all our previous posts on this matter.
Phantom actress puts men in their place.
We're back to National Spotlite with a cover published today in 1968. The photo is of actress Carolyn Haynes, and a headline goes to actress Caroline Lee, who says she makes men crawl for her sexual favors. The money quote: “If women use their bodies the right way they can be the most powerful people on Earth.” A quote like that sounds suspiciously like it was fabricated by a man, and in fact while several Caroline Lees appear on IMDB, none fit the profile required to have done this interview—i.e. born sometime in the 1940s or possibly in 1950. National Spotlite is busted again. The editors simply could never have imagined a globally accessible actor database. We also did a search on Haynes and likewise learned she never existed
But some of the celebs are real. In Spotlite's “Dateline: The World” feature readers are treated to a photo of Chris Noel. It's been a long time since we've seen her—eight years to be exact. Spotlite tells us she smashed a vase over the head of a nightclub employee when he tried to force his way into her dressing room in Sydney one night. “The man attempted to romance her but she spurned every overture he made. When he tried to use violence to get his way she spilt open his skull.” We found no mention of the incident in any other source, but we like the story for how it turns out. If her assailant had known anything at all about Chris Noel he'd have rememberd her publicity tours of Vietnam and realized she was one tough celeb.
“Dateline: The World” next regales readers with a tale out of Africa. "Cary Grant arrived in Nairobi to join a hunting safari and has been escorting two six-foot dark-skinned native girls to whatever cafes in town they can get into, and has caused quite a bit of controversy by doing so. Grant traded punches with a man in one spot when the gent took offense at Cary's dates. Cary flattened the man, but the stranger rose to his feet flashing a knife and only the quick efforts of the bartender and cafe owner averted further trouble for the star. Cary and the girls fled while the others were subduing the knife wielder."
Paris: "Juliette Prowse was detained the other night after she threw a make-up case through the window of a drug store. She had purchased some cosmetics at the American Drug on the Champs-Élysées, but brought the order back the same night. She claimed that she'd made a mistake and didn't need the cosmetics. The salesman explained that he would exchange the merchandise or give Prowse credit, but no cash refund. Juliette roared out of the place. Outside she hurled her make-up case through the store's front window. Two policemen saw her smash the window and nabbed her on the spot."
Beirut: "David Niven and wife Hjordis ran into an embarrassing situation in a night spot while making the cafe rounds in this Lebanese city. A belly dancer took such a fancy to David that she did her act for him alone. She even sat on his lap. The patrons objected to her performing for just one man and began to throw things at her and at Niven. David and Hjordis ran for the exits after he pushed the girl off his lap."
Capri: "Noel Coward is nursing bruises on his face. He says he was attacked by two young men while he was out strolling one night. The muggers made off with a pair of cuff links given to him by Raquel Welch and a watch from Greta Garbo. Coward was found half-conscious and bleeding."
You get the gist—celebs in trouble. Back during the heyday of tabloids Confidential had bellhops, bartenders, chauffeurs, maîtres d'hôtel, and cops by the hundreds phoning in hot tips, but Spotlite was never more than a second tier rag and could not have had the resources to uncover the above stories. Therefore the editors either made them up or lifted them from other tabloids. We suspect the latter—with the stories ginned up for entertainment value. Cary Grant in Nairobi with two Kenyan escorts? We'll buy it. Grant risking his million dollar mug in a fistfight? Improbable. But the stories sure are fun. See more from National Spotlite by clicking here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1978—Son of Sam Goes to Prison
David Berkowitz, the New York City serial killer known as Son of Sam, is sentenced to 365 years in prison for six killings. Berkowitz had acquired his nickname from letters addressed to the NYPD and columnist Jimmy Breslin. He is eventually caught when a chain of events beginning with a parking ticket leads to his car being searched and police discovering ammunition and maps of crime scenes.
1963—Buddhist Monk Immolates Himself
In South Vietnam, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death by dousing himself with gasoline and lighting a match. He does it to protest the persecution of Buddhists by Ngô Đình Diệm administration, choosing a busy Saigon intersection for his protest. An image of the monk being consumed by flames as he sits crosslegged on the pavement, shot by Malcolm Browne, wins a Pulitzer Prize and becomes one of the most shocking and recognizable photos ever published.
In New York City, Dr. Robert Smith and William Griffith Wilson, who were both recovering alcoholics, establish the organization Alcoholics Anonymous, which pioneers a 12-step rehabilitation program that is so helpful and popular it eventually spreads to every corner of the globe.
1973—John Paul Getty III Is Kidnapped
John Paul Getty III, grandson of billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, is kidnapped in Rome, Italy. The elder Getty ignores a ransom demand for $17 million, thinking it is a joke. When John Paul's ear later arrives in the mail along with a note promising further mutilation, he negotiates the ransom down to $2.9 million, which he pays only on the condition that John Paul repay him at four percent interest. Getty's kidnappers are never caught.
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