Yep, this is a robbery. Faked you out, right? Now pretend I'm asking for a back rub and empty the cash drawer.
Above, a great cover for W.R. Burnett's High Sierra from Avon Publications' series Murder Mystery Monthly, 1946, featuring a very slick robber painted by Paul Stahr. We shared another cover for this book you can see here.
What the hell are you two snickering about? You never seen a guy polish his tommy gun before?
Harry Schaare does nice work on a cover for W.R. Burnett's thriller High Sierra, copyright 1950 from Bantam Books. If anybody snickered it was probably Schaare himself. He had to know how masturbatory this looked, right? Or maybe it's just us. Anyway, this book obviously became a celebrated gangster film noir starring Humphrey Bogart, but the source material is electric. We read it years ago and it stuck with us. Highly recommended.
Dammit, because of you all the girls started calling me “just barely average Stan.”
John Monahan was a pseudonym used by W.R. Burnett, the man behind Little Caesar, High Sierra, The Asphalt Jungle, and other enduring novels. He also wrote or co-wrote such screenplays as This Gun for Hire and Scarface. In Big Stan he tells the story of a cop named Stanislaus who’s tasked with catching a masked criminal known as the Black Phantom. The Phantom proves elusive until he makes the mistake of targeting Stan’s wife. It’s a fairly well regarded book from an author who wrote some of the classics. The art on this 1953 Gold Medal paperback is by Barye Phillips.
Let me have one last kiss before you go out there, so I can enjoy your face the way it was.
W.R. Burnett followed up his 1929 gangster novel Little Caesar with 1930’s Iron Man, the story of a boxer named Kid Mason who is laid low not by his ring opponents but by the machinations of unsavory hangers on and a femme fatale—who’s unfortuntately also his wife. We showed you the hardback dust jacket to this a while back. This paperback from Avon goes full pulp with the teaser, promising a “toboggan-slide of passion, a headlong express that rips through the heavens and plunges to the bottom of hell.” That sounds fun, and indeed it was well reviewed, and was adapted into a film in 1931 with Lew Ayres as Mason and Jean Harlow as his wife. The cover art is uncredited.
Is there a Breeze in here?
A little while ago we shared an image of American actress Judy Pace, and that got us thinking about some of her blaxploitation flicks. One we hadn’t seen was Cool Breeze, a reworking of the classic 1950s crime drama The Asphalt Jungle, which was in turn based on W.R. Burnett’s novel. We watched it last night and enjoyed it, though like many movies of the genre it’s the grittiness and other intangibles that make it good, as opposed to the acting and directing, which aren’t great.
But one bonus was the brief appearance of Pam Grier, who you see below in a totally nude still image you won’t find on any other website (at least not yet). We found it interesting that the scene in question did not actually show Grier nude. Instead, her entire torso was blocked by a character in the foreground. But obviously there was another camera and the still was taken from the alternate angle cinemagoers never got to see. You’re welcome internetgoers. Grier was once described by fellow actress Margaret Markov as fearless, basically up for anything, and here’s proof.
Moving on to the poster, it was made for the movie’s Italian run as I diamanti sono pericolosi, which means “diamonds are dangerous.” This piece of art is rare not just in the real world, but on the internet, which means that, like the Grier photo, you probably won’t find it on any other website (at least not an unwatermarked version). Cool Breeze premiered in the U.S. in 1972. No info on when it debuted in Italy.
He wasn’t very tall, but he cast a long shadow.
Above, Humphrey Bogart in a promo shot from 1941’s High Sierra, a movie that examines the futility of greed and violence (at least for those with no power or connections). It was more or less the fortieth film Bogart had made, and further cemented his bankability before he truly broke out as a leading man later the same year with The Maltese Falcon. Also, you can once again thank W.R. Burnett—he wrote the novel and collaborated on the screenplay.
Sometimes a single adaptation won’t get the job done.
In February we showed you a very cool art deco style cover by Edna Reindel for W.R. Burnett’s 1930 novel Iron Man. Here they’re paired again for Burnett’s Saint Johnson, also published in 1930, because the guy wrote hella fast. The book was turned into a movie called Law and Order in 1932, co-scripted by a young John Huston and starring his dad Walter Huston. It was also filmed that same year as The Beast of the City, and that one also starred Walter Huston. Apparently neither version was quite good enough, because it was made into a movie again in 1937 called Wild West Day, and in 1940, called once again Law and Order, and once more in 1953, yet again called Law and Order. For those who think Hollywood has run out of ideas and just makes the same movies over and over, well, it’s always been that way. So what is this amazing book that needed five film versions about? Maybe the cover character’s crazy eyes and bushy mustache can offer a hint. Give up? He’s supposed to be Wyatt Earp. Anyway, the cover has Reindel’s trademark art deco style, which mixes with the standard Old West tableau of a gunman at a card table and ends up looking a bit like Mexican folk art. We love it. See the other Reindel cover here.
Geez, lady, you sure picked a hell of a time to start doing the alligator.
Above, a cover for W. R. Burnett’s drama Romelle, which has nothing to do with spontaneous inappropriate dancing, but rather with a nightclub singer who marries a mysterious man with a dark past. It was published in 1946, and this Bantam paperback appeared in 1951. The art is by Robert Skemp. We featured another Burnett cover a few days ago, which you can see here.
Well, what if I don’t want to go to my corner?
Above you see a very interesting dust jacket for W.R. Burnett’s 1930 novel Iron Man, which is the story of a mechanic turned middleweight boxer turned world champion. Burnett had more than fifty films made of his fiction and screenplays, including Little Caesar, High Sierra, The Asphalt Jungle, Scarface, and many more. But we’re focused on the cover art today. It’s by Edna Reindel, and it has both an art deco influence and a purely Reindel style that downplays outright aggression in favor of smoldering defiance, like Enrico del Debbio’s boxer in Rome’s Foro Italico. Alternatively, it could look like something more prosaic, like a male model’s runway pose (it’s okay to think of Zoolander—we did too). Anyway, we find this an incredibly beautiful piece of art, certainly wallworthy, and doubtless a contributing factor why first editions of this book go for between $75 and $200. We will definitely find more of Reindel’s work and share it later.
The Asphalt Jungle remains one of the top crime thrillers ever filmed.
The Asphalt Jungle is half a century old, but remains one of the best procedural heist films ever made. The men who commit the robbery at the center of this movie come from all walks of life—some are perennial losers, others are opportunists, and others are just having a hard time and need a way out. All of them long for better lives. All of them desperately need the money to get there. These footmen, facilitators, and financial backers plan every aspect of a lucrative heist, but the caper begins falling apart almost immediately, due to back luck, mistrust, and greed.
Sterling Hayden, who we’ve mentioned before, is incendiary in the lead, exuding extreme menace but with a hint of recognizable humanity behind the eyes. One of his best moments comes in a brief but exquisitely choreographed shooting involving a thrown valise.
All of this takes place under the sure hand of director John Huston, working from a 1949 book by William Riley Burnett. Burnett was a bit of a legend himself. He was a prolific crime novelist who wrote the source material for Little Caesar, Scarface, and High Sierra, and whose screenplays include This Gun for Hire, I Died a Thousand Times, and Nobody Lives Forever.
Put Burnett, Huston and Hayden together (not to mention James Whitmore, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, and a young Marilyn Monroe in a small role as a rich man's plaything) and you get exactly what you’d expect—a genre classic that transcends its boundaries and becomes instead a piece of high art.
The film was a major hit that wowed audiences worldwide. At top you see the Italian promo art, and below that we have both the hardback and paperback cover art. The Asphalt Jungle opened as Giungla di asfalto in Italy today in 1951.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1937—Amelia Earhart Disappears
Amelia Earhart fails to arrive at Howland Island during her around the world flight, prompting a search for her and navigator Fred Noonan in the South Pacific Ocean. No wreckage and no bodies are ever found.
1964—Civil Rights Bill Becomes Law
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Bill into law, which makes the exclusion of African-Americans from elections, schools, unions, restaurants, hotels, bars, cinemas and other public institutions and facilities illegal. A side effect of the Bill is the immediate reversal of American political allegiance, as most southern voters abandon the Democratic Party for the Republican Party.
1997—Jimmy Stewart Dies
Beloved actor Jimmy Stewart, who starred in such films as Rear Window and Vertigo, dies at age eighty-nine at his home in Beverly Hills, California of a blood clot in his lung.
1941—NBC Airs First Official TV Commercial
NBC broadcasts the first TV commercial to be sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC began licensing commercial television stations in May 1941, granting the first license to NBC. During a Dodgers-Phillies game broadcast July 1, NBC ran its first commercial, from Bulova, who paid $9 to advertise its watches.
1963—Kim Philby Named as Spy
The British Government admits that former high-ranking intelligence diplomat Kim Philby had worked as a Soviet agent. Philby was a member of the spy ring now known as the Cambridge Five, along with Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross. Of the five, Philby is believed to have been most successful in providing classified information to the Soviet Union. He defected to Russia, was feted as a hero and even given his commemorative stamp, before dying in 1988 at the age of seventy-six.
1997—Robert Mitchum Dies
American actor Robert Mitchum dies in his home in Santa Barbara, California. He had starred in films such as Out of the Past, Blood on the Moon
, and Night of the Hunter
, was called "the soul of film noir," and had a reputation for coolness
that would go unmatched until Frank Sinatra arrived on the scene.
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).
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