Femmes Fatales Aug 5 2021
PROMOTIONAL ART
These mystical lion statues are supposed to bring good luck and fortune. I'm making this one my agent.


This elegant photo of June Duprez with a Chinese guardian lion was made when she was filming the drama Calcutta. According to tradition these lions ward off malign influences, and no wonder she's hanging onto it. She was born in England during World War I on a night when Germans were bombing her town. She survived and went on to make a mark in Hollywood, appearing in films like The Thief of Baghdad and Little Tokyo, U.S.A., but due to various factors her career stalled, and she found herself broke and cut off from family money back home due to the chaos of World War II. She made it through this second unstable period—no info on whether the lion helped—but her film career never recovered. Even so, we find her to be an impressive screen presence. We've heard that her best movie may be the 1945 mystery And Then There Were None, so we're going to check that out. This photo is from 1946.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 3 2021
PRISONER OF CIRCUMSTANCE
Stuck between the cops and a hard place.


This poster was made to promote the drama Big House, U.S.A., which premiered today in 1955, and starred Ralph Meeker, who later headlined the classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly. He also starred in one of our favorite unknown films of all time, the television production Birds of Prey, which we may talk about at a later date. Big House is basically a procedural crime drama about how the cops try to break down a kidnapper and suspected murderer played by Meeker. His character is nicknamed Ice Man because he's cool under pressure. True to form the cops can't wring a confession from him, so he's sent to prison for lesser crimes and will be released in a short while.

Ice Man thinks he's got it made. Serve easy time, earn a quick parole, then quietly retrieve the heist loot waiting for him on the outside. But cons read the news too, and several decide they want his cash. They plan an escape, and they're going to drag Ice Man along against his will or kill him for refusing. And naturally, they have no intention of letting him survive handing over the money. What a pickle. Die now or die later. But once he's on the outside maybe—just maybe—there's a chance he can turn the tables on these con-conspirators.

Big House, U.S.A. is set in Denver and the surrounding Colorado countryside, and features some nice exteriors, but it's strictly a b-movie—poorly staged, cheesily scripted, and stuck together with baling wire and chewing gum. We mentioned Meeker's starring role in Kiss Me Deadly. That came out only a month after this movie, so it was a nice recovery for him. A couple of other notes of interest in Big House are that you get to see a young and fit Charles Bronson flashing his biceps—certainly a draw for some—and the legendary Lon Chaney, Jr. gets a role as a grizzled prison inmate. The overall result is certainly watchable, but there are better prison dramas out there, and hundreds of better vintage crime flicks.

After we bust outta this joint, what do you say we form a boy band? Charles knows three guitar chords and I can sing.

What are you mad at me for? Is it my fault the babes like singers best?

Fuck this. Between Meeker and Bronson I'm getting no action at all. I'm starting a solo career. I heard there's a thing called Auto-Tune that'll keep even my singing voice in pitch.

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Vintage Pulp May 12 2019
UNDER PRESSURE
Falling into the gutter is easy. Getting out? Not so much.


When does a movie get too cute for its own good? Possibly when the femme fatale is named Cuddles. Despite that laugh inducing bit of characterization, Underworld U.S.A. is the deadly serious tale of a kid who becomes a career criminal in order to exact revenge upon the hoods who killed his father. Cliff Robertson stars and Dolores Dorn plays the aforementioned Cuddles in this cautionary tale about the inexorable gravity of organized crime, which can suck everybody into a place from which there's no redemption or escape. Samuel Fuller steers the production with a sure hand, Robertson broods, Dorn suffers, gangsters plot and scheme, and the final result is tough and wrenching.

Best line: “I know. I'm drunk. But my brain's okay!”

It's interesting that on many websites Underworld U.S.A. isn't classified as a film noir. But it has most of the elements—overriding sense of doom, moral ambiguity, police corruption, scenes in bars, copious shadows, rain slick streets, extreme close-ups, et al. And Fuller had previously helmed the excellent 1953 film noir Pickup on South Street. But often you'll see Underworld U.S.A. slotted as a drama or melodrama. Well, it's definitely those. Viewers will see that Fuller, who was influenced by pulp novels and tabloids, had a unique vision. While Underworld U.S.A. doesn't stand up against the best film noir has to offer, it's successful on its own terms. It premiered in New York City today in 1961.

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Modern Pulp Aug 1 2017
CITY OF ANGLES
In a place like Atlantic City there's always one more chance.


The poster you see above was painted by the Spanish artist Francisco Fernandez Zarza-Pérez, who signed his work as Jano. As you can see, it was to promote Louis Malle's drama Atlantic City, U.S.A. Most sites call the film just Atlantic City, but we're going with what the opening credits called it. Though the movie starred U.S. performers and tends to be thought of as an American effort, it was French produced and premiered all over Europe in 1980 before reaching the States in 1981. It opened in Spain today in 1980 and tells the story of a sixty-something minor crook who finds himself involved with twenty-something hustlers and their sale of stolen drugs. Circumstances place both the party favors and the profits in his hands, and he suddenly has a chance to be the big time mobster he never was.

Not only did Atlantic City, U.S.A. win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, it's one of the few movies to be nominated for all five major Academy Awards—Best Actor (Burt Lancaster), Best Actress (Susan Sarandon), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay. With a résumé like that we don't have to tell you the movie is good. Watch it. You'll like it. The woman on the poster, by the way, looks nothing like Susan Sarandon, but it was early in Sarandon's career, and we suspect Jano wasn't too invested in getting her likeness correct. It was within his capability, certainly—his Lancaster looks great. We don't know why he got Sarandon wrong. Considering how famous she eventually became, we have a feeling he wished he'd done better.

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Intl. Notebook Jun 6 2014
MIXED SIGNALS
The divide between fact and propaganda is never so clear as in hindsight.


Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day—the Allied landings in Northern France—and since most observances take the same form, we thought it would be a good opportunity to look at the event from a different angle by sharing something you might not see anywhere else. So above and below are some front and back covers of Signal, a German propaganda magazine printed from 1940 to 1945 and distributed in neutral, friendly, and occupied countries. These are from Yugoslavia, and their text is Croatian. Glancing at the images is to marvel at the always yawning chasm between propaganda and reality, for though Signal showed Hitler’s soldiers defeating foes while winning hearts and minds, when most of these were printed his army was not only the most hated entity in the Western world, but was already in the process of being fatally smashed in the crucible of a bitter Russian winter against a hardened foe that had always considered ice, snow, wind and frostbite its most important allies.

Once the other allies, led by the U.S., dragged the Germans into a two-front war, defeat was assured. That outcome could have been forestalled perhaps by the development of advanced technology, particularly a German atomic bomb, but it never quite happened. And yet under the direction of the Wehrmacht and Hasso von Wedel, winning imagery kept spinning from the web of German presses, depicting beautiful frauen cavorting in the homeland and smiling soldiers abroad doing the tough but necessary work of unifying Europe. But the intended recipients of these messages had begun to understand the truth—the Germans were finished, and the devastation they had wrought on foreign lands was coming home to roost. When bombs finally fell like rain on Berlin and enemy soldiers stormed the ramparts east and west, Hitler’s imagined 1,000-year Reich was over. It had lasted barely five years.

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Intl. Notebook Jul 30 2013
TENNESSEE POP
Nothing says refreshment like deadly air power.

Something a little different today, above is a poster produced by the American soft drink brand Pop Kola touting their beverage as the biggest thirst value under the sun. Though this poster uses a World War II motif, the brand was launched as a subsidiary of Hub City Bottling Works in Jackson, Tennessee way back in 1919, and seems to have survived at least into the early 1970s. We only know the latter because we came across a newspaper story about Pop Kola sponsoring NASCAR star James Hylton during his last year as a full-time professional racer in 1972. He was excited about the partnership, calling it the best deal he ever had. As far as how far beyond 1972 Pop Kola lasted, we don’t know. It was a bit before our time. In any case, we always enjoy WWII memorabilia, and this poster featuring the elegant, gull-winged Corsair fighter plane caught our eye. It seems like an aggressive image for selling soda, but we’re sure it was well received at the time. 

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Intl. Notebook Jun 26 2013
DAKOTA SKY

This is one of the more famous images of a nuclear detonation, a shot of the American blast codenamed Dakota, which was part of Operation Redwing, conducted at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, today in 1956. The layered effect you see is sometimes called a Wilson cloud, and consists of water vapor condensed out of the atmosphere by rarefaction, an aftereffect of a shockwave traveling through humid air. In order to perform tests on Bikini Atoll, about 200 Micronesian inhabitants were forced to relocate. They and their descendants hope to return one day, but as of now their home is still too contaminated with radiation. 

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Intl. Notebook Feb 18 2013
TEMPEST IN A TEAPOT
I'm a very special pot, it’s true. Here’s an example of what I can do

Above, a photo of the American nuclear test codenamed Wasp, part of Operation Teapot, detonated at the Nevada Test Site today in 1955  

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Intl. Notebook Dec 6 2012
MODERN 1947
It was a year to remember.


Above is a photo of Manhattan, New York City, in the year 1947, looking from Battery Park toward midtown. Here you see everything—the Staten Island Ferry Building at bottom, Wall Street to the right, the 59th Street Bridge crossing Welfare Island at upper right, and in the hazy distance, the Empire State Building—at that time arguably America’s most recognized symbol. In the aftermath of a war that had destroyed Europe’s and Japan’s industrial capacity, the U.S. was the unquestioned power on the planet, with massive economic might, a military that had taken up permanent residence in dozens of countries, and a growing stock of nuclear weapons. Two years later the Soviets would detonate their first nuclear bomb, shaking the American edifice to its foundation. Meanwhile, all around the world, the seeds of change were taking root. Below is a look at the world as it was in 1947.


Firemen try to extinguish a blaze in Ballantyne’s Department Store in Christchurch, New Zealand.


American singer Lena Horne performs in Paris.

The hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, and the aftermath of the execution of Hisakazu Tanaka, who was the Japanese governor of occupied Hong Kong during World War II.


Sunbathers enjoy Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, and a military procession rumbles along Rua Catumbi.


Assorted Brooklyn Dodgers and manager Leo Durocher (shirtless in the foreground) relax at Havana, Cuba’s Estadio La Tropical, where they were holding spring training that year. Second photo, Cuban players for the Habana Leones celebrate the first home run hit at Havana’s newly built Estadio Latinoamericano.


Thousands of Muslims kneel toward Mecca during prayer time in Karachi, Pakistan.


A snarl of traffic near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.


The city hall of Cape Town, South Africa is lit up to celebrate the visit of the British Royal Family. Second photo, during the same South African trip, the royals are welcomed to Grahamstown.


A wrecked fighter plane rusts in front of Berlin’s burned and abandoned parliament building, the Reichstag. Second photo, a shot of ruins in Berlin’s Tiergarten quarter, near Rousseau Island.


A crowd in Tel Aviv celebrates a United Nations vote in favor of partitioning Palestine.

Men and bulls run through the streets of Pamplona, Spain during the yearly Festival of San Fermin.


Fog rolls across the Embarcadero in San Francisco; a worker descends from a tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.


Detectives study the body of a woman found murdered in Long Beach, California. Two P-51 Mustang fighters fly above Los Angeles.


Danish women from Snoghøj Gymnastics School practice in Odense.


Tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo demonstrate against the United Nations vote in favor of partitioning Palestine.


A beauty queen draped with a sash that reads “Modern 1947” is lifted high above the boardwalk in Coney Island, New York.


A woman in Barbados holds atop her head a basket filled with fibers meant for burning as fuel.


Mahatma Gandhi, his bald head barely visible at upper center, arrives through a large crowd for a prayer meeting on the Calcutta Maidan, India.


Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson is hounded for autographs in the dugout during a Brooklyn Dodgers game.

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Intl. Notebook Jun 22 2012
CIRCUS ARTISTRY
Nothing says fun like murderous clowns.


Ever notice how often pulps and noirs are centered on circuses and carnivals? We noticed it too, which is why we put together a collection of circus posters from the U.S.A., Belgium, Holland, Britain, the Soviet Union, et.al., circa 1930s to 1960s. Which circus would we see? The dynamite tossing clowns just below are enticing, but Big Otto the blood-sweating hippopotamus is by far the star attraction of this group. Otto and more below, and check out a collection of magic posters
here

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Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 24
1930—Amy Johnson Flies from England to Australia
English aviatrix Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia. She had departed from Croydon on May 5 and flown 11,000 miles to complete the feat. Her storied career ends in January 1941 when, while flying a secret mission for Britain, she either bails out into the Thames estuary and drowns, or is mistakenly shot down by British fighter planes. The facts of her death remain clouded today.
May 23
1934—Bonnie and Clyde Are Shot To Death
Outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who traveled the central United States during the Great Depression robbing banks, stores and gas stations, are ambushed and shot to death in Louisiana by a posse of six law officers. Officially, the autopsy report lists seventeen separate entrance wounds on Barrow and twenty-six on Parker, including several head shots on each. So numerous are the bullet holes that an undertaker claims to have difficulty embalming the bodies because they won't hold the embalming fluid.
May 22
1942—Ted Williams Enlists
Baseball player Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox enlists in the United States Marine Corps, where he undergoes flight training and eventually serves as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. The years he lost to World War II (and later another year to the Korean War) considerably diminished his career baseball statistics, but even so, he is indisputably one of greatest players in the history of the sport.
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