Songs of sadness, loneliness, and forgetting.
Above is a poster for the French crime drama Tirez sur le pianiste, known in English as Shoot the Piano Player, and based upon the David Goodis novel Down There. We raved about the book. The movie? Well, you're supposed to love it. Make no mistake there. Though it received mixed reviews when released, most critics rhapsodize it now. This isn't unusual. Opinion will shift over time. Since director François Truffaut said he intended to make a film mainly for cinephiles, it makes sense that it eventually won critics over. The question is will it win you over?
Truffaut took a quintessentially American novel and converted it into something quintessentially French. This wasn't his initial intention. He wanted to pay tribute to American films. There are certainly American references, but he couldn't help but let his French nature come through. For example, where the book conjures torch songs and jazz, Truffaut cast singer/songwriter Charles Aznavour in the lead, and the music he plays is mostly folk songs and ditties. It's a major shift in mood. Truffaut also elected to leaven the terminal darkness of the novel with humor.
But you have to judge the product on its own merits, so if you pretend you never opened the book, Tirez sur le pianiste is certainly interesting. Truffaut either wasn't aiming for or didn't have the budget to seek technical perfection. The shadow of his camera pops up. The physical action is disjointed and unconvincing. But the film is also kinetic and beautifully shot. There's a kind of guerrilla style to it, a feel of a director doing anything that comes to mind and the story following along. We were aware of watching something uniquely artful, but not uniquely successful. So again, the question is, will it win you over? We can't say. Try it and see for yourself. Tirez sur le pianiste premiered in France today in 1960.
One woman, two men, and a plane that won't fit three add up to the most unavoidable brawl in history.
We stopped scanning our magazines and small treasures a while back because our scanner started putting a bright blue stripe on every scan. With the pandemic on we didn't get around to buying a new one, and it was also more difficult than it needed to be because of operating system issues—i.e. forced obsolescence by Apple, which is the nadir of modern evil. Months went by. Then we decided to move, then we packed, then we we moved. A couple more months were lost there. We were going to leave the old scanner behind but we figured it might come in handy for documents, lease agreements, etc. Well, the change of electricity has done it good, because the blue stripe has gone from intolerable to somewhat faint. So today you get fresh scans from your favorite men's magazine and ours, Australia's Adam. This issue is from November 1977 with a cover that illustrates the story “The Rogue,” a surprisingly good effort by Norman G. Bailey, who would go on to write a couple of war novels in the 1980s. Elsewhere inside you get the usual reliable array of art, photography, and cartoons. More from Adam soon.
Hemingway's lament for the downtrodden working class is supposed to be his worst novel. But is it really?
Don't let the cover blurbs fool you. In general To Have and Have Not is considered by critics to be Ernest Hemingway's worst novel. Originally published in 1937, it was completely rewritten and became a great 1944 movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. If you've already seen the movie but never read the book, hold onto your hats, because this is extraordinarily rough stuff from Hemingway, a tale of desperation and murder in the depths of the Great Depression. Harry Morgan is a Key West boat captain who's stiffed for $825 after his three-week charter skips town. That would be about $15,000 in today's money, so it's no surprise that losing this bundle means Morgan, who's married, has three kids, the usual assortment of bills and responsibilities, and has spent his life fighting to get ahead, is now destitute.
If you opt to read the book, make sure not to gloss over exactly how far in the hole Morgan is. $825 dollars would bend the morals of most people in 1937, just as $15,000 would today. After being cheated out of this cash he makes a fateful decision to turn criminal himself by running illegals from Cuba to Florida. That's when things go from bad to worse. If you look closely at the cover art on this Perma Books edition from 1953 you'll see what the result of Morgan's criminal foray was. That's one reason cover art is so interesting. The scene the artist chooses to depict—in this case it's Tom Dunn—can sometimes be so specific as to give away an important plot point. If you can't tell what we're talking about by looking at the art we'll give you a hint. What happens to Morgan is the also title of an earlier Hemingway book.
But moving on, To Have and Have Not is—we'll just come out and say it—brutally racist. There are some who would like to gaslight you into thinking you're seeing something that isn't there, and others who would prefer you to ignore this, but you shouldn't, because racism is actually pivotal in the narrative. Morgan's initial foray into crime is against people he clearly feels are subhuman. They and other ethnic groups are referred to with slurs, and these come not just from Morgan's mouth, and from his thoughts, but from the writer's thoughts too. There are places where Morgan uses actual names to refer to characters that Hemingway still refers to by slurs. Think: “Hey Joe, give me a hand with these poles,” said Harry. The [slur] put down his coffee and helped Harry with the poles. So while it's always good to separate the author from their fiction so they have freedom to create any sort of characters they wish, it still raises an eyebrow when you read something like that.
Another aspect of To Have and Have Not that may jar is its lack of sympathetic characters. Morgan's ex-prostitute wife Marie is probably the nicest person in the book, and even she drops n-bombs all over place. But you have to root for someone, so it's her and Harry. You do it because they're at the economic mercy of terrible people. Most of these folks—who are generally of a better class—wouldn't use racial slurs, but they also wouldn't think twice about ruining someone for a few dollars. And while Harry employs a black man and gets along with him fine, you can be sure none of his rich charters would let a black man deign to speak to them. So in its way, To Have and Have Not is relevant in 2020 by starring a working class character who's uncouth, uneducated, and devoid of genuine empathy, but who constantly deals with people that think they're better than him and really aren't.
This is why losing the charter and those $825 bucks is such a clever way to open the novel. The charter, Johnson, flies away and doubtless never gives what he did much thought, but in shafting a working man creates wreckage that crushes not just the man he cheated, but those around him. We think this is the way to focus on the book if you read it—acknowledge the obvious deficiencies of Harry Morgan, but pay close attention to the secondary characters. This is what Hemingway wanted, which is why Morgan's narration lasts for only a while. Everything after his first crime caper is told from outside his point of view. As the book goes on, Hemingway drags you deeper into the lives of these ancillary characters, dispassionately leaving a struggling Morgan to recede into the distance.
So is To Have and Have Not Hemingway's worst book? We don't like it as much as his other works, but with its changes in point-of-view, mood, and even narrative tense, it's also more challenging than those books. Ultimately, the most serious indictment of To Have and Have Not comes from the author himself—he thought it was his worst book too. And who are we argue with Ernest Hemingway? But on the other hand, when you write The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls, and win a Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea, and later win a Nobel Prize for your body of work, your worst book can still be pretty good.
She knows the best way to a man's heart—ballistically speaking.
It's been a couple of years since we had a cover by French illustrator Jean Salvetti, so here's one for Dorothy ouvre le bal, or “Dorothy opens the ball,” published in 1952 by Paris based Éditions le Trotteur and written by Oscar Montgomery, aka José del Valle. There were three books in the Dorothy series, with this one coming second. Short synopsis: Dorothy goes to Egypt, hurts a bunch of bad men. As you can see, Salvetti signed his work Salva. More Salva here, here and here.
The truth is I only listen to classical, but all the guys at those concerts are too old and frail to risk taking to bed.
Last stop for the scum of humanity on the road to hell? Sign us up! But 1953's Honky Tonk Girl isn't the throwaway novel you'd expect. The premise is unique—a Dixieland jazz musician named Johnny Nickles fears he's recorded a haunted album. The platter, The Ghost Album, is so titled because it's a tribute to dead jazz kingpins, and seems to have heralded a series of misfortunes: the band's arranger dropped dead of a heart attack; Johnny's girlfriend stole his money and car; his band lost the cushy house gig they'd been promised; and now, playing nightly in a dive bar in nowheresville, the band's drummer has been murdered. Nickles decides to solve the case and gets help from a hooker, a chanteuse, a cop, and some obvious clues. We thought the idea of a haunted album would be the launch pad for a memorable book, but Beckman doesn't quite get this one airborne because—despite his extensive pulp pedigree—he's middling as a writer. But what does come through is his musical knowledge and familiarity with the hand-to-mouth existence of ambitious young jazzmen. We give it a 5 for prose and an 8 for atmosphere. The cover art, on the other hand, is a solid 10. It's by the always amazing Howell Dodd.
Murder mystery explores the turbulent years of pre-Malaysia Singapore.
We grabbed this beautiful hardcover copy of Suddenly, at Singapore from Scottish publishers William Collins, Sons & Co. for two reasons. First, the cover art is by the legendary Barbara Walton, one of the great illustrators of the mid-century period, and the title promises exotic thrills. Though we're lucky enough to live in an exotic land ourselves, we never get tired of tales set in Asia, Africa, or the Mediterranean. And speaking of exotic, Gavin Black is a pseudonym far less exotic than the author's real name—Oswald Wynd. Why use a pen name when you're named Oswald Wynd? Beats us, though the fake name does sound more real.
Anyway, Suddenly, at Singapore involves the Harris Brothers, two adventurous anglos born and raised in Singapore who own a shipping company that, in addition to legit cargos, transports black market weapons around the Java Sea in a fleet of Chinese junks. The story opens with the older brother Jeff being murdered, and younger brother Paul vowing revenge—as soon as he figures out who ordered the killing. He's also involved in an as yet unconsummated martial affair, and is trying to send his wife back to the U.S. to get her out of his hair. The two plotlines eventually braid together, and pretty soon the hero and both his women are in all kinds of difficulties.
This was a quick read, decent not great, but with nice local color derived from Black's/Wynd's time spent in the region. The story takes place before Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak merged into Malaysia, and Black channels some of the political tension and economic lawlessness that prevailed during that time, but doesn't delve into it in a detailed way. He would do that later, though—we gather that this was the first of numerous Paul Harris thrillers. We also hear from those in the know that Suddenly, at Singapore is the worst of the lot, so we may try the second book Dead Man Calling when we get the hankering for South Seas craziness again.
Our best option is to run as fast as we can. You can keep up with me okay in that floor length gown, right?
These two orange promos were made for The Chase, starring Robert Cummings as a down and out war vet and Steve Cochran as a Miami gangster. The film also has Peter Lorre as Cochran's henchman and Michèle Morgan as his wife. The plot set-up is simple. When Cummings finds a wallet packed with cash he returns it, though he's down on his luck. The wallet belongs to shady Cochran, who is impressed by Cummings' honesty and hires him to be a chauffeur. Pretty soon he's driving Morgan around too, which is a nice bonus. When she decides she wants to leave Cochran, she asks Cummings for help and he dreams up a scheme to escape by ship to Havana.
If you watch this you'll notice that Cummings is sedate, almost in a daze, but there are reasons for this that are revealed later. His escape plan does not—of course—come off without a hitch. Lorre figures it out and throws a monkey wrench in the works. That's not a spoiler. This is film noir, which means you know his initial plan won't work. But we won't reveal more. In our opinion, it would have been nice if the filmmakers had at least gotten some second unit shots from Havana to use, just a few street scenes or harbor shots, but no such luck. Though the movie has a backlot feel, some of the sets are pretty nice just the same. In the end it's worth seeing. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.
Hitomi Kozue finds herself Onna tough job assignment.
By now you've certainly gotten the feeling that we like Japanese actress Hitomi Kozue. We've featured her often, and above you see her on a poster for Onna hisho no kokuhaku: kaniku no shitatari, which was retitled for its English language release Confessions of a Female Secretary: Juice from the Fruit. You have to take a moment to appreciate the baroque weirdness of that title. Quite evocative, no? In addition to the theatrical promo above, we have the DVD cover below. We never share those, but this one is actually pretty nice and features an image of Kozue we hadn't seen before.
The movie deals with an office worker employed at the most Weinsteinian (or Ailesian, if you prefer) company in Tokyo. Mixed in with unwanted advances from various schlubs are Eyes Wide Shut-style masked orgies, drug induced psychedelia, woodland humping, and other kinks and extracurriculars. The end result is another roman porno effort from Nikkatsu Studios about a woman's sexual exploitation and eventual embrace of her own depravity. Ah, the wet dreams of male screenwriters—so perverted, so consistent. Onna hisho no kokuhaku: kaniku no shitatari premiered in Japan today in 1976.
She's tougher than Tarzan, meaner than Sheena, and lustier than Gungala.
You can look at this cover and correctly assume that we've shared it because it was painted by Frank Frazetta, considered by many to be the master of sword and sorcery art. It's a beautiful piece, rightly famous. Alan Dean Foster is a master too. He isn't what you'd call a significant author in the sense that he's produced lauded original material, but he may be the king of movie novelizations. Among his output: The Black Hole, Clash of the Titans, Outland, Starman, Pale Rider, and The Chronicles of Riddick, as well as novelized series based on Star Wars, Star Trek, and Alien. We love Foster for his Star Wars sequel Splinter of the Mind's Eye, which came out before The Empire Strikes Back (notice we don't bother with that Episode nonsense) and followed Luke and Leia—not siblings in Foster's universe—as they adventured on strange worlds and discovered their love for each other. We still think the film series should have followed Foster's lead, but whatever.
His Luana is a novelization of the 1968 movie of the same name starring Mei Chen Chalais, which we talked about a while back. Sometimes novelizations are published before the film, sometimes after. Foster published Luana six years after the film in 1974 for reasons that are obscure. It was among his first published books. While template for a novelization is provided by the filmmakers, the author is who gives it color and life. Foster fulfills that duty with obvious relish, mining literary and cinematic antecedents like Tarzan, Tarzana, Gungala, Sheena, Shuna, and Ka-Zar for familiar tropes. A kilometer long pit filled with army ants? A lion and panther, both larger than any ever seen before, working in tandem with a huge chimp? A pitched battle between blowgun wielding Tanzanian tribesmen and an expedition of white explorers? A secret city of solid gold buildings? As lost world tales go, by standing on the shoulders of his predecessors, Foster crafts something better than average. And far better than the movie too.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1922—Egyptologists Enter Tut's Tomb
British Egyptologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon become the first people to enter the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in over 3000 years. Though sometimes characterized as scholars, Carter and Carnarvon were primarily interested in riches, and cut up Tut's mummy to more easily obtain the jewels and gold affixed to him.
1947—Hollywood Blacklist Instituted
The day after ten Hollywood writers and directors are cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to give testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the group, known as the "Hollywood Ten," are blacklisted by Hollywood movie studios.
1963—Ruby Shoots Oswald
Nightclub owner and mafia associate Jack Ruby fatally shoots alleged JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of Dallas police department headquarters. The shooting is broadcast live on television and silences the only person known for certain to have had some connection to the Kennedy killing.
1971—D.B. Cooper Escapes from Airplane
In the U.S., during a thunderstorm over Washington state, a hijacker calling himself Dan Cooper, aka D. B. Cooper, parachutes from a Northwest Orient Airlines flight with $200,000 in ransom money. Neither he nor the money are ever found.
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