Lange novel has plenty of friction but not enough heat.
This photo cover was made for the 1968 thriller Zero Cool, written by John Lange, who was in reality a guy named Michael Crichton. Zero Cool is a fantastic title for a crime novel, but there's little else to suggest Crichton would become the zillion-selling author of Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, except possibly a flair for gimmicky ideas. In this case, several unlucky people are dispatched by a means unknown, their bodies torn as if they had been attacked by a madman wielding a scalpel. The truth of how these killings are accomplished is classic Crichton—i.e. high-concept and probably impossible. The deaths are ancillary—the main plot involves an American doctor in Spain coerced into performing an autopsy, and forced to insert an unknown object into the body. This act leads to dangerous repercussions, but there's no heft or menace to the narrative, which means we can't recommend the book. For Crichton and crime, you're better off with later, more accomplished efforts like The Great Train Robbery and Rising Sun. In Zero Cool he's just warming up.
They're meaner than the gators and deadlier than the snakes.
Above, a Japanese poster for Swamp Women, originally made in 1956, starring Mike Connors, Marie Windsor, Carole Matthews, and Beverly Garland. The Japanese title of this is 女囚大脱走, which means “female prisoner escape.” We consider that a bit of a plot spoiler, but the art is brilliant, and we suspect it enticed many a Japanese filmgoer. To their shock and horror, after they'd ponied up the yen they found out it was a Roger Corman b-movie and probably wanted to escape too.
Eddie G. never goes down without a fight.
Mid-century Belgian promo art strikes again. This is an epic poster. It was made for the crime drama Black Tuesday, which played in Belgium as Mardi ça saignera (French title) and Dinsdag zal er bloed stromen (Dutch title). Edward G. Robinson and Peter Graves star in the tale of two death row inmates who escape prison and go on the lam. Graves has hidden $200,000 from a bank robbery and Robinson plans to betray him and steal the dough. Unfortunately, Graves is critically shot during the escape and, even as he lies near death, refuses to say where the money is hidden.
This is a pretty nice flick. Virtually any movie with Robinson is worth a viewing. He played many types of characters in his career, but he's known for portraying tough guys, and this is classic Edward G., with all the snarls and sneers fans had come to expect from romps like Little Caesar and Key Largo. And why wouldn't he snarl? Unless a doctor he's taken hostage can save the day the cash he lusts for will never be found. But maybe Graves won't die. Maybe he's tougher than he seems—and smarter too. Robinson never wins in his gangster roles, so it's a question of how he'll lose, not if. But it's always fun watching him fight the bad fight. Black Tuesday premiered in the U.S. in late 1954 and reached Belgium today in 1955.
James M. Cain spins a tale about an unusual love and an unusual life.
Vintage Ace paperbacks are considered highly collectible for a few reasons, including the fact that the company popularized the double novel. But we like Ace because it often did well with art. This front for James M. Cain's The Moth is about as striking as cover illustration gets. It's uncredited, but we know exactly who it is. It's Sandro Symeoni. How do we know? Because the cover at this link is confirmed to be Symeoni, and there's no doubt the artist is the same as above. Not only is the style a match, but so is the time period. This came in 1958, and Ace used Symeoni's art several times between ’58 and ’60. That makes this paperback a super discovery, because Symeoni, a brilliant Italian artist who specialized in movie posters, rarely painted book covers. It's possible that, as with Arthur Miller's Focus (you clicked the link above, right?) the art was borrowed from one of Symeoni's posters, but if so we don't know which one. Doesn't matter. Sandro kills again.
Moving on to the novel, Cain, one of the towering figures of pulp literature, stretches himself here to tell the life story of a man through his first thirty-five years, spanning the Great Depression, Prohibition, and World War II; his various jobs, schemes, and hustles; and his ups, downs, ups, downs, ups, downs, ups... We're not putting an end on that sentence in order to avoid giving a hint whether he ultimately triumphs or fails. For a time Cain's protagonist works in the oil business. For years he's a hobo riding the rails. For part of his life he's a renowned soprano. But no matter where he goes or what he does, there's a past destined to come full circle to stare him in the face. This is Cain's longest book, but it's pretty involving. Its only flaw—if it can be called that—is that is doesn't surprise. You know which untrustworthy friend will come back to haunt him, and which unlikely love will reappear to offer a chance at redemption. Still, a good read. We recommend it.
When Jim Brown stands his ground an entire city is turned upside down.
This Japanese poster was made to promote the U.S. blaxploitation flick Black Gunn, which in Japan was called スーパー・ガン, or “Super Gun.” The U.S. promo for the movie is nice too, but we prefer this version. Black Gunn starred Jim Brown as a Los Angeles nightclub owner whose little brother rips off the mob and stashes the cash in Brown's office safe. Little brother has also stolen and stashed ledgers containing information that could bring down the entire organized crime apparatus. Naturally, the mob comes looking and they aren't subtle about their methods. A few beatings and threats elicit some useful information, and pretty soon they're knocking on the door of Gunn's Club, as Brown's joint is called. Think his little brother is going to survive all this? If he did, you wouldn't get to see vengeful Jim beat, kick, and blast various members of mafia west.
Brown is usually a passable actor, no worse than average for action movies of the period, but here he seems to be sleepwalking, along with every other cast member apart from head villain Martin Landau. Brenda Sykes in particular seems to be adrift about a hundred nautical miles offshore. We chalk these performances up to a rushed production, but the good news is the action is explosive, so the film isn't a total waste of time. Plus it has Bernie Casey, and we'll watch him in anything. He had a palpable cool that should have been bottled and sold. Black Gunn premiered in the U.S. today in 1972.
He scored big in 1971. In 1972 he returned for a double dip.
Once you go blaxploitation you never go back. At least for a day or two. Above is the U.S. promo poster for another movie from the genre, 1972's Shaft's Big Score, starring the legendary Richard Roundtree. Shaft is obviously a name meant to conjure sex, so it makes sense that the poster is so phallic, with Roundtree sticking that long black rod in the viewer's face. Shaft's Big Score was the sequel to 1971's Shaft, which was a landmark in American cinema that hammered home the growing realization in Hollywood that there was money to be made by showing audiences people like themselves. White audiences had lived that reality since the first moving pictures, but mostly never considered the privilege they were enjoying. Shaft helped demonstrate that all people liked it, and helped define the future for film studios. The focus was black, the cast was diverse, and the money rolled in. Which brought about Shaft's Big Score. We've seen better movies, but we've sure seen worse too. You can read what we thought about it here.
Get down on your knees and pray—for it to end.
We decided to read another sleaze novel after being underwhelmed by Robert Silverberg's Passion Peeper, and ended up choosing Michael Knerr's 1962 effort The Sex Life of the Gods. Big mistake. It's adolescent nonsense, which is too bad, because the title intrigued us. Basically, a bunch of aliens kidnap a human and—for reasons we'll leave aside—plan to replace him with an exact duplicate. So the duplicate wings his way to Earth, but his ship crashes, and he comes out of it with amnesia. He has just enough intel to find the human's wife Beth, she fills in some facts for him, he thinks he's really her husband Nick, and voila!—they're soon boning on a bearskin rug. Nick was an artist, and when his impossibly hot studio model Janet learns he's devoid of memory, she sees it as a long awaited opportunity, sneakily lies that she's his mistress and voila!—they're soon boning in a secluded cabin. Clearly, in sleaze amnesia isn't so bad. Naturally, throughout all this, faux-Nick's alien buddies are searching for him, as are the local hick cops, and some federal types. When he finally clues in that he isn't really Nick, he decides the only just solution is to return the real Nick to Earth. Since Nick is imprisoned on the mothership, faux-Nick finagles his way back there, where he encounters his fiancée Jela and voila!—they're soon boning in zero g. We won't criticize the plot, the structure, the message, or the genre. It's sleaze fiction. You know what you're signing up for. The problem is Knerr should have had his writer's license suspended. We're going back to detective fiction.
All Through the Night is Bogart at his best.
There's no single movie that made Humphrey Bogart a superstar—he built his brand with each outing. But surely All Through the Night was one of his most important pre-icon roles. You see its Italian promo poster above, which was painted by the great artist Luigi Martinati. We've featured Martinati often, and you can see his work here and here. After originally opening in the U.S. in 1942, All Through the Night premiered in Italy as Sesta colonna today in 1949. You can read more about the film here.
Some people just can't say no.
Above is an alternate cover for N.R. de Mexico's classic drug sleaze novel Marijuana Girl, a surprisingly good tale of addiction and redemption we wrote about last year. That edition was from Uni Books and had a photo cover. This Beacon edition has a nice painted cover, which is signed but illegible. Have any idea whose signature this is below? Drop us a line.
Little Schmo Peep is such a creep and doesn't know how to stop.
1965's Passion Peeper, for which you see a Darrel Millsap cover above, is another sleaze novel credited to Don Elliott, but allegedly written by future sci-fi author Robert Silverberg. The blurb tells you all you need to know, as a voyeur named J. Martin Crispian gets his rocks off by spying on his female neighbors who live across the courtyard from his apartment. He describes himself as a schmo and a loser unliked by women, though he certainly likes them. Among his obsessions: a blonde who does nude calisthenics every night, a high school aged nympho, and this pair:
They were in a tight embrace. Mr. Crispian watched, startled by what he saw. These two young girls, framed in the window, were unmistakably kissing. [The redhead] began rubbing her hand over the brunette's blue jean-covered buttocks.
It had to be, Mr. Crispian thought. Two girls who were just roommates or good friends might kiss each other now and then, he figured. But they wouldn't kiss on the lips the way these two were doing. And they wouldn't go in for buttock grabbing and breast squeezing.
That's pricelessly funny. Interestingly, the peeper doesn't appear much through the middle of the story, as Elliott/Silverberg expands his narrative to encompass the lives of other characters. But everything circles back to him, as his spying puts him in the uncomfortable position, Rear Window fashion, of witnessing a possible crime. A clever ending follows, but future sci-fi legend or not, this is mediocre fiction. Silverberg was just trying to pay bills, which we can certainly respect. He later proved he could do much better.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1971—First of the Pentagon Papers Are Published
The New York Times begins publication of the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret U.S. Department of Defense history of the country's political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The papers reveal that the U.S. had deliberately expanded its war with carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and Marine Corps attacks, and that four presidential administrations, from Truman to Johnson, had deliberately misled the public regarding their intentions toward Vietnam.
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.
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