At this point she has no idea which way to turn.
Above is an alternate promo poster for Tension, with cool upside down imagery of a figure representing star Audrey Totter. We say “representing” because it doesn't really look like Totter, but it's her alright. It was modeled after a promo photo. The movie also starred Richard Basehart and the incandescent Cyd Charisse. We talked about this last year, so if you want to know more, click here. And if you want to see more of Totter click here, or Charisse (a must), click here and here. Tension premiered today in 1949.
Southwest Florida gets obliterated but most of the wreckage is human in MacDonald disaster drama.
The three weather based thrillers we've discussed—A Town Is Drowning, Tropical Disturbance, and Death at Flood Tide—represent a minor fraction of the total in mid-century fiction. It's no surprise, then, that an author as prolific as John D. MacDonald also tested the waters. Murder in the Wind, also known as Hurricane, came in 1956 during the more fertile, less censorious period for MacDonald, and presents readers with a disparate selection of people who all hole up in an abandoned house during a hurricane named Hilda. Eventually the house is swept away entirely, but the story is never less than solidly grounded and engrossing. If your time is limited you might skip this one in favor of The Damned, which is a close cousin, conceptually speaking, but otherwise Murder in the Wind is a necessary read. You get all the fulfillment you'd want from a disaster drama.
New and improved Picchioni dance tights! They'll never tear a seam, even if your body does!
Italian illustrator Franco Picchioni conceived a balletic cover pose for John J. Everett's Assi allo sbaraglio. If we tried this position everything we have would split down the middle, up to and including our pride. The title of the book translates to “aces in disarray,” so we'd be suffering from asses in disarray. But speaking of stretched to the limit, let's stop with this strain of thought before it wears out completely. John J. Everett was a pseudonym, of course, but we don't know for whom, and his novel is part of Edizioni MA-GA's Il Cerchio Rosso collection, though we can't pinpoint the year. Nothing is working for us today, but we'll bend over backwards trying to find more info.
She saw, she conquered, she came—over and over.
We read Jason Hytes' 1962 sleaze novel Come One-Come All in electronic form, and thanks to a glitch in the page count we had no idea how long it was. Which led to the moment when we thought to ourselves, “This is getting interesting,” swiped to the next page and were confronted with the words—The End. By that page the book's lead character Barbara Martin had succumbed to her own sexual voracity, progressed to random seductions with both sexes, reached the point of being lured into prostitution, and dealt with the decision working out not well at all. And by not well at all we mean really not well. So while unknowingly swiping to The End, we were anticipating the commencement of bloody retribution by Barbara against the tale's villain. Nope. Barbara has learned her lesson and moves on. And so have we. But we'll say this much—for the genre, Hytes is not a bad writer.
She's small but she has enormous appetites.
What would ’70s erotic cinema be without Swedish movies? And more importantly, without Swedish actresses? Above is a Japanese poster for the softcore film Justine och Juliette, known in English as Justine and Juliette, or sometimes Swedish Minx, and it starred the small wonder known as Marie Forså, who pound for pound was probably the best performer to come out of Swedish sexploitation cinema. That's what we think, anyway. We talked about the movie last year, so all we're doing today is showing you this eye-catching piece of art. Oh, and the rare image of Forså below. Let's not forget about that. We also have the rear of the poster. In addition, you can see a colorful Japanese promo for Forså's movie Butterflies here, and a very, erm, interesting one for her movie Bibi here.
….then he ate their livers. Anyway, I think he went that way. You check it out and I'll light your way from back here.
First rule of dark places: make sure you never go in first. Jean Salvetti paints a sinister scene on this cover for 1953's Des clous! by Robert Tachet, which is about crime, smuggling, and espionage in Perpignan on the French/Spanish border. The title, pronounced like “clue,” means “nails,” or maybe “spikes.” In the least surprising revelation imaginable, Tachet was a pseudonym for André Héléna. Why is that no surprise? Because Héléna was a pseudonym machine who also published as—ready?—Noël Vexin, Andy Ellen, Andy Helen, Buddy Wesson, Maureen Sullivan, Herbert Smally, Jean Zerbibe, Kathy Woodfield, Sznolock Lazslo, Clark Corrados, Peter Colombo, Alex Cadourcy, Joseph Benoist, Lemmy West, and C. Cailleaux. He was not only prolific, but was also one of the few mid-century writers to have his books translated into English from another language. Salvetti was prolific too. We have a few more examples of his brushwork if you're interested. Check here, here, here, here, and here.
I plan to rise from soul crushing poverty into the soul crushing middle class, and if you play your cards right I'll take you with me.
This 1955 Bantam edition of Steve Fisher's 1954 novel Giveaway has a front by James Hill that's at once beautiful and sordid. We've always been drawn to this art, so after seeing the book around for years we finally decided it was time to give it a read. Fisher tells the story of a seventeen-year-old Midwestern runaway named Eddie Shelton who ends up in Los Angeles and meets a mother and daughter who make their living by selling prizes they win for appearing on (fictional) game shows such as Down Melody Street and Cookies or Cash. It's difficult to get on the shows because the producers prefer novices, rather than “pros.” Jane, the daughter in this duo, sees Eddie as her ticket to being booked on a show called Man and Wife that offers huge prizes, including a trip to Hawaii and a year's wardrobe. She's willing to do anything for the chance—even convince Eddie she's in love with him.
The allegory is strong with this book. It reminded us of They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, with its capitalist critique folded within the characters' constant hope that a jackpot will lift them out of their meager circumstances, but it's also indebted to Catcher in the Rye because it features the same sort of youngish character who thinks the entire world is phony bullshit. Like that book, Giveaway is written in first person with copious slang and the feel of trying to make sense of a confusing society. We saw it labeled somewhere as juvenile fiction. It isn't. It stars two teens, but the themes from veteran pulp magazine contributor, crime novelist, and screenwriter Fisher are adult, and overall he crafts a good tale. His screenplays include Dead Reckoning, Lady in the Lake, and Johnny Angel, so a foray into the criminal underworld with him is mandatory. We have one of his crime novels, so that'll be an upcoming read, and we'll report back.
Black don't crack a smile.
Above is a second excellent tateken poster for Shin joshuu sasori: 701-gô, known in English as New Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701, with Yumi Takigawa dressed in black from head to toe and looking ready to deal out death. These tateken style promos are rare, so we're happy to have found two. As usual, we like to share posters on a film's premiere date, and that was today in 1976.
Dan J. Marlowe gives readers an immersive experience.
Death Deep Down, a thriller from the typewriter of the prolific Dan J. Marlowe, was published in 1965, which is a significant year compared to the books from the ’40s and ’50s we typically read. Books from the mid-sixties and later usually have pacing more similar to today's novels, with faster movement and more action-oriented plot beats. That's true here, and combined with good writing skill, the result is that there isn't a single page Marlowe has written that readers would likely be tempted to gloss over at any point. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
The story revolves around a potential fortune-making modification to scuba equipment (or SCUBA if you prefer), and the various forces—business, government, and non-aligned—that all want the rights to it. When you think scuba you think warm waters, and the cover illustration reinforces that notion, but all the aquatic action is in the freezing waters of Long Island Sound, off Oyster Bay. The protagonist Rocky Conrad, a marine on leave from the Vietnam War, is drawn into the plot when his half brother, who developed the gear, is tortured to death. This is juxtaposed against an inheritance drama within a wealthy family, while lurking in background are mysterious assassins of sadistic bent, who flay skin, break bones, and cut out eyes. Who they're working for is one of several mysteries Rocky needs to unravel. He goes about it the way you'd expect of a guy with his name—fists first.
This was Marlowe's tenth novel, and he knew exactly what he was about. There aren't many flaws, though it's at times jarringly pervy, with female characters getting fully or partly naked according to flimsy authorial pretexts. We love nudity, but within the narrative flow. Rocky's asides get a little digressive. Even so, the female characters play important roles both behind the scenes of the caper, and front and center in the action. One such instance involves a vicious fight. We just mentioned how rarely authors write truly knock-down drag-out battles between two women, and presto—here you go. This fight is amazingly hateful, with face scratching, hair ripping, and the combatants rolling off a deck. At the end both require serious medical attention and are likely to be scarred for life. It's a nice punctuation in a book filled with good action. Turning to the striking cover, this Gold Medal edition features the instantly recognizable work of Robert McGinnis, and his genius shines through even on what is an understated effort by his standards. As often occurs with mid-century paperbacks, the blurb is misleading. Topside she was all honey and sex and woman—underwater she had the conscience of a shark. That's every woman in the book apart from the main love interest Dulcie, which makes it potentially foolish that Rocky treats them all dismissively. The only thing more dangerous than a femme fatale is, like, three of them. We're going to try another Marlowe. Based on how involved we got in Death Deep Down, more is mandatory.
Do you ever put the gun away? I'm just wondering because you'll probably need two hands for what I have planned.
We recently called Barye Phillips a ubiquitous illustrator, but we keep running into Robert McGinnis too. Which mid-century artist do you suppose painted the most paperback covers? Surely both Phillips and McGinnis have to be in the running. Here's the latter's masterful work on the cover of William Ard's Wanted: Danny Fontaine, a 1960 re-issue of 1959's As Bad As I Am. In this novel the title character has just been paroled after his third prison stint. Because his crimes always involve helping damsels in distress, a provision of his parole is that he must stay away from women for eighteen months. That's not easy. He has movie star looks on a six-four frame, and an overt but non-aggressive masculinity wrapped inside a genuine charm that verges on innocence. All of that makes him irresistible to women. But the fact that his probabtion officer can't wait to send him back to prison offers all the motivation he needs to keep his life unentangled. Unfortunately, Fontaine gets entangled anyway. He gets involved in a cop killing, at which point a beautiful actress named Gloria Allen risks everything to come to his aid. We thought it was a clever thematic reversal by Ard after taking such lengths to portray Fontaine as a habitual white knight. The man who's gone to prison three times rescuing women is doomed unless a woman helps him—and at great risk to herself, since the police have gone full vigilante in an attempt to avenge one of their own. While the plot Ard spins is unlikely in parts, and there are some of the issues regarding race that are endemic to vintage fiction, Danny Fontaine and Gloria Allen are both winning creations, the supporting cast is good, and the story is propulsive. With this one on his ledger, plus the excellent Club 17 and Deadly Beloved, we may have to elevate Ard to our top rank of vintage crime authors, that lofty designation we like to call “trusted." |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1934—Baby Face Nelson Killed
In the U.S., killer and bank robber Baby Face Nelson, aka Lester Joseph Gillis, dies in a shoot-out with the FBI in Barrington, Illinois. Nelson is shot nine times, but by walking directly into a barrage of gunfire manages to kill both of his FBI pursuers before dying himself.
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.
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