Cocktails, comedy, and crime make a mix that'll go right to your head.
Above, a fantastic Czech poster for the 1934 romantic comedy-murder mystery The Thin Man, which there was titled Detektiv Nick v New Yorku. This is a photo-illustration, rather than the paintings we love, but it's still, in our book, as good as promo art gets. As far as the film goes, like Casablanca or Chinatown, there's no way to overrate it. Some of the humor is so modern that you'll have trouble believing it was made almost a century ago and wasn't cribbed from an episode of Friends or Seinfeld. Just goes to show that in the infinity of time we don't change as quickly as we think.
We adore the boozing party animals at the center of this tour de force—Nick and Nora Charles, played by William Powell and Myrna Loy—whose drunken interactions could easily be the inspiration for Jim and Jules of the hilarious television show Brockmire. Credit the director, actors, editors, and everyone else for this masterpiece, but give the biggest nod to Dashiell Hammett, who wrote the excellent source novel. There's no release date for Detektiv Nick v New Yorku in Czechoslovakia, but figure spring or early summer of 1935.
Nick and Nora Charles—never shaken, never stirred, and almost never sober.
1934's The Thin Man is what we like to think of as a palate cleanser. After reading a few less accomplished authors you grab a Hammett because you know he's great. It's pure fun following functional alcoholic Nick Charles and his equally hard drinking young wife Nora as they navigate deception and murder. How much do Nick and Nora Charles drink? At one point Nick wakes up feeling terrible and realizes it's because he'd gone to bed sober. Several cocktail sessions a day is about average. Maybe that's why danger doesn't faze them. Even being shot at is reason for a libation and a quip.
This edition of The Thin Man is a rare one. It's the Pocket Books paperback from 1945, with the type of art that was prevalent on paperbacks during the heyday of pulp. We can't tell you much about the book that hasn't already been written, including the fact that it's less a mystery than a comedy of manners, but there is one aspect that's rarely commented upon. Nick Charles is of Greek descent. His full last name is Charalambides. This was the ’30s, when there was open racism in the U.S. against Greeks. James M. Cain delves into this in The Postman Always Rings Twice, in which the Greek character Nick Papadakis is insulted behind his back and set apart as a non-white inferior.
So in The Thin Man Hammett was portraying Nick Charles not as the upper crust dilettante William Powell made famous in the film version, but as a tough guy outsider. People are a bit afraid of him. Filmgoers were definitely not afraid of pencil mustached William Powell. Hammett wanted the written Charles to possess street cred, to be a person who had been places and seen things others had not. Hammett was going for a different type of detective in more ways than merely his drinking habits. Charles' maverick role is just a little extra flavor in an already entertaining novel. The actual mystery is difficult to follow, but even so we highly recommend this if you haven't read it.
Never try to copy the uncopyable.
U.S. born actress Barbara Lang was one of many actresses promoted as a Marilyn Monroe type, but it was wishful thinking. She only looked like Monroe in shots like this upnose angle from a 1957 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer promo. However, Lang was beautiful and talented in her own right and went on to star mainly on television, including on series such as 77 Sunset Strip and The Thin Man. After a short career and a turbulent personal life she died in Los Angeles in 1982 aged fifty-four.
San Fran film fest once again celebrates the best and brightest of mid-century crime cinema.
Today, once again, the U.S.’s premier film noir festival begins in San Francisco. Well, we aren’t impartial—we used to live in Berkeley, just across the Bay, and San Fran was our nocturnal playground—but we think the Noir City Film Festival is the best, that its locale the Castro Theatre is awesome, and that San Francisco, with its iconic hills, clanking cable cars, and rogue fogs, is the also the best possible host city. This year the art produced for the festival in its thirteenth year references worn pulp paperbacks, which we can appreciate, and we also love the festival line-up.
The extravaganza opens with Woman on the Run, a film we discussed recently. Apparently the last known print burned in a fire, and this year’s showing represents the culmination of years of restoration work. Since the film was in the public domain, we imagine some secondary sources existed and needed to be tracked down and cobbled together. Other classics to be screened include Clash By Night, The Thin Man, Shockproof, Cry Terror!, and twenty others. Hopefully a few of our Bay Area friends will attend the festival and report back. And to Pulp Intl. readers in that part of the world, this is your official reminder—any chance to see film noir on a big screen is an opportunity not to be wasted.
She wore an off-the-shoulder organza, neatly accessorized with a .38.
There have been many covers for Dashiell Hammett’s great novel The Thin Man. This is one of the best..
Update: A reader sent in an email not long after we posted the above pointing out that the artist copied Robert Maguire's cover art for Jack Webb's The Brass Halo. Though not completely identical, it's fair to say the second artist more or less just changed the colors and reversed the image. In fact, maybe he just changed the colors, since the reversal could have been done during the pre-press process. There are many examples of copying out there. We even dedicated a previous post to it. We also shared a collection that featured one copy in a group of eight covers. With this third example we have a mind to dig into the phenomenon a bit more. We're really curious now who the copycats are. We'll get back to you later on it, assuming we find out anything. Thanks to Miga for writing in and locating the below image.
Previously unknown Dashiell Hammett works to appear in crime fiction magazine The Strand.
In an announcement bound to excite and intrigue pulp and literature fans the world over, magazine editor Andrew Gulli has slated for publication fifteen previously unknown Dashiell Hammett short stories. Gulli found the writings in the archives of the Harry Ransom Centre, a literary memorabilia storehouse based at the University of Texas, in Austin.
Gulli says he has no idea why the works ended up at the Ransom Centre, and he can offer no historical context for the works, since all are undated. He plans to publish the first of these new stories, entitled “So I Shot Him,” in his crime fiction magazine The Strand, with the others possibly to appear later as a book-length collection.
Hammett’s many works include classics such as The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, and as a stylist he established many techniques that later became foundational in pulp writing. As far as the quality of the new works goes, Gulli has said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper that, “There are some very, very good pieces of fiction here. Some of them are classic Hammett and fit in with the style we know and others are very different and go off to places that were a different direction for him.”
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
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.
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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