Whatever the problem is Bogart will solve it.
Above are two Italian posters for the Humphrey Bogart film Damasco '25, which is better known as Sirocco, and is yet another Casablanca clone. The U.S. poster even promises flat-out that the movie, an adventure about Syrian freedom fighters and French colonials in Damascus circa 1925, is “beyond Casablanca.” We'll see about that a bit later. These pieces were painted by the great illustrator Anselmo Ballester, whose work we've highlighted here. We'll get back to him later too. Sirocco opened in the U.S. in 1951, and premiered in Italy today in 1952.
Commuters run to work after latest round of NYC budget cuts eliminates subway cars.
Andrew L. Stone may be unique in the realm of vintage literature. His 1958 thriller Cry Terror is a novelization of the film of the same name, which he wrote, directed, and co-produced. Cry Terror wasn't the first time Stone wore multiple hats. Two years earlier he had written and directed the thriller Julie, and written the novelization too. The screenplay earned him an Academy Award nomination. He racked up thirty-seven directorial credits during his career, and among his output was Stormy Weather, The Hard-Boiled Canary, Highway 301, Confidence Girl, and A Blueprint for Murder. He ended up with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Another reason we wanted to highlight Cry Terror today is because of the excellent cover art by Robert Maguire. It was modeled after a promo shot from the film of lead actress Inger Stevens. You see that below. We were thinking about buying the book, but digging up all this info has revealed the entire plot to us, so we won't bother. Also, the copies that are currently out there are going for fifty dollars and up. As we mentioned before, we don't go that high for anything we'd be tempted to swat flies with. Plus we have a ton of books piled up. We may watch the movie, though. Less time, less expense. If we do we'll report back.
A group of reckless truckers gear up for trouble.
Above is a beautiful poster for Hell Drivers, a working class thriller set in England dealing with an ex-convict who takes a trucking job for a gravel company and begins risking life and limb trying to break another driver's speed record. It has something of the feel of 1947's They Drive By Night mixed with a British road rally. It also has film noir legend Peggy Cummins in a co-starring role, along with Herbert Lom from the Pink Panther movies, and lead actor Stanley Baker. Oh, and a guy named Sean Connery. And there's a truck crash with a brutal body ejection. But it's this amazing purple promo that prompted us to talk about the movie. We love this art. The manhandling moment depicted, by the way, precedes a kiss, as the thin narrative line between masculine anger and lust is crossed yet again in a mid-century film. Hell Drivers premiered in London today in 1957.
Red tide brings a flood of problems to a coastal community.
If you've been to our site often you can look at the above poster and immediately know it was made to promote an ama movie. This niche of Japanese vintage cinema, like the tides, just keeps coming. This film was called Yobai ama and was known in English as Nasty Diver. Sounded promising, so we watched it and it deals with assorted marital problems in a fishing village. Yôko Azusa plays an ama working days diving in the bay, working nights as a bar hostess, and working as a part-time domestic for a local geisha, while her husband does who-knows-what.
Trouble starts when Yôko's husband refuses to have sex during her period. He makes numerous excuses, including that it's bad for her health, but she isn't fooled for a second. She walks out on him and of course this is big news in this fishing village, which brings an opportunist out of the woodwork eager to take advantage of Yôko's separation. He's the local pimp, Yoto, glib and persuasive as movie pimps tend to be. Will Yôko end up on the game? Will she get back together with her period-squeamish hubby? You won't find out from us. This is lightweight stuff from Nikkatsu, but certainly we've done worse with sixty-nine minutes of spare time. Yobai ama premiered in Japan today in 1977.
The difference is in the details.
The phenomenon of vintage illustrators copying each other is a subject of interest and bafflement to us. We've talked about it a lot. When it happens, usually it's a great illustration being copied by an anonymous artist of far lesser ability. Other times, though, it's two top level artists painting the same piece. We assume these are initiated by the copyright holders, whether movie studios or publishing houses.
Today we have an interesting example from the literary world. In 1962 Enrico de Seta painted a brilliant cover for a Digit Books edition of Dashiell Hammett's classic mystery The Glass Key. The same year, amazingly, Digit commissioned another, almost identical cover from illustrator Dan Rainey. You see it at top, with the de Seta cover underneath. We also have de Seta's piece in our usual pixel size, here, from a post back in 2014, so if you're on a mobile device feel free to click over there for more resolution. De Seta originated this tableau, so we give him more credit, but it's great work from Rainey too, even if it's almost a copy. We'll show you more from him later.
Tropical storm conditions combine with shark migration to form deadly sharkicane
We're circling back to Peter Cheyney's novel Dark Bahama to show you a couple of Spanish covers from Ediciones G.P. These came in 1953 and 1958 respectively and are, sadly, uncredited. And the bad news keeps coming—there's no hurricane in the novel, therefore no sharkicane. Sorry. You can read about the book here.
I'm wearing Cartier jewels, a Borbonese fur, and Halston opera gloves. Am I mesmerizing or what?
Above, a 1955 Technicolor lithograph featuring an unknown but very beautiful model. A piece of well known fashion advice states that, in order to avoid overdressing, a woman should face away from a mirror, then turn quickly and see what catches her eye first. Remove that item and she's good to go. That must have been one garish blouse.
Can't stop the spread, can't hope to contain it.
The colorful cover of this book attracted us, but the unusual title struck us too. Alien Virus? How could we resist that? The teaser tells us Alan Caillou's novel is a thriller set in exotic Cairo, so we were pretty sure the title was figurative and there'd be no viruses or aliens. We also learned from the rear cover that this is an espionage tale. When we cracked it open it became clear that, indeed, there is no literal virus. So then to what does the title refer? The book is set in Cairo before Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power in 1956, but sometime after the 1952 uprising that many historians consider a marker for the end of British rule there. Here's the passage that explains the title:
This was the way they would march, down from the big square to the wide streets and the midans, chanting their slogans, carrying their leaders on their shoulders, holding aloft their placards, and the [instigators] would watch and know just when to set the fires, and there would be shots in the dark alleyways, and a man would be kicked to death and the crowds would gather to watch the fun and then take part in the burning and the looting and the destruction and the killing, and bombs would be be thrown and men would be bleeding in the streets after they had passed. There was an alien virus at work.
Yep, Alien Virus is another glorification of empire, which posits that Brits deserved to steal and rule others' lands, with the violence used to do so neatly excised from the annals of western history, replaced by a myth describing colonials as pragmatic and occasionally firm rulers, but generally benevolent, and who of course transformed distant cultures in beneficial ways, and even left behind cricket and polo, invaluable gifts. But history—when those who've been subjugated and occupied are given a chance to speak—is not so clean or pretty as western books would have you believe, and plunderers cannot be heroes or saints.
Despite the point-of-view being colonial, Alien Virus is an entertaining tale. It was originally published in 1957, with this Panther Books edition coming in 1961, and was written by a man who knew Egypt well, understood the workings of both the western diplomatic service and the Cairo underground, and spoke the local languages. So confident is Caillou in his storytelling that he doesn't even bother to translate the numerous snippets of French and Arabic speech, preferring to impart meaning by mood, a high-minded literary choice unusual for the period as far as we know, and which even today is attempted only by the most self assured authors writing for the most understanding publishers.
There are several major characters in Alien Virus, but in the center of the action is Julius Tort, who catches wind of a serious destabilization plot, but at first can't figure out the where, when, and who of it all. Could it be Russians? Could it be a local religious faction? He may not know, but the reader certainly does, as Caillou gives glimpses into terrorist cells. He doesn't use that terminology, though, and the cells aren't very formal. They're just ragtag cabals, but armed and determined to see Brits out of their country. We won't reveal more. Instead we'll end with a fun dialogue exchange between the protagonists. It happens after a stabbing. The victim, Bolec, in addition to fresh knife wounds, has been suffering from hemorrhoids:
“A good job you have an appetite, my friend. Those spare tyres have saved your life. We'll have to put you in the hospital for a few hours.”
Perugino said maliciously: “Don't forget to have the doctor cut out your piles, Bolec. He might cut out your coglione at the same time.”
“All right, you wait, you get this thing, you not laugh about it.”
“Is strange, is it not?” Perugino mused, “Let us agree that the backside is the only intrinsically humorous object which is shared by both the nobility and the bourgeoisie. Bourgeoisie behinds have a different popular name, is it not so? But all the same, whatever you call them...”
Tort said: “A rose by any other name.”
“Whatever you call it, it is subject to same indignities and the same discomforts.”
“This is my backside you talking about!” Bolec shouted.
“If I were a wealthy man,” Perugino went on, “it would cause me a great deal of unhappiness to know that from at least one aspect I was no better than the common beggar. But as it is, I can find a certain comfort in it.”
Monroe finds herself in a room with no space to maneuver.
It says plenty about Don't Bother To Knock that we queued it up last night, popcorn and adult beverages in hand, having forgotten that we already watched it several years ago. That has less to do with the overall film than with Marilyn Monroe, but we'll get to that in a minute. The film was based on Charlotte Armstrong's Mischief, which was serialized in 1950 in Good Housekeeping magazine, and deals with a mentally disturbed babysitter watching over a child in a fancy New York City hotel suite. Along with Monroe it stars Richard Widmark and Anne Bancroft, with their three characters suffering respectively from derangement, detachment, and disillusionment—three ailments suggested to be caused or exacerbated by life in the big city. Widmark as a cynical single looking for easy action and Bancroft as a world weary torch singer working the hotel lounge don't have any problems a change in luck wouldn't solve, but the movie revolves around Monroe, who, thirteen credited roles into her career at this point, gets a chance to stretch her range as a nutty nanny in need of a lot more than just kind words to get back on the beam.
Monroe's performance in this heavy drama is tough to judge. To us it feels a bit flat, but contemporary reviewers generally liked it, and it's fair to say it helped her climb that last rung to the superstardom she'd reach a year later with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Watch that film and you'll see that, while Don't Bother To Knock asked her to stretch, it did so by requiring that she suppress her natural charisma. That's no easy trick for an actor, let alone someone as incandescent as her, and that, in short, is probably why we forgot we'd already watched the movie. Monroe was so big in her other performances that this flick went down the memory hole. Her iconic movies feel as if they could only have starred her. This one feels like it could have starred anyone. Monroe just isn't Monroe in it. But that probably means her performance is a success. Watching it afresh, we can tell you it's certainly a must for Marilyn fans, and will probably work for vintage film fans of all types. But those unschooled in the oldies might walk away from this effort thinking, Meh, I don't get all the Monroe fuss. But the fuss was appropriate and deserved. Don't Bother To Knock—not a film noir as labeled on many sites, by the way—premiered today in 1953.
It's a dog sucker dog world out there. Or something along those lines.
It's been more than a year since we read anything from the prolific Orrie Hitt, and that's too long, for though he may not be a literary master, he's always interesting. In 1957's The Sucker, a tough and amoral hustler named Slade Harper gets involved in an auto parts business, decides to cut out the owner, and bed his beautiful business partner as a bonus. Pretty soon Harper and the femme fatale are in the plot together, but the owner of this automotive concern may not be quite as gullible as he seems, and it's not so clear who's the sucker and who's the suckee. Wait, that's wrong. Would it be a... sucker and a sucked? A sucker and a suckered?
Doesn't matter. The point is Hitt's tale of round robin cons is better than usual for him. It's impressively hard-boiled, basically an attempt to channel James M. Cain, and not a bad one, all in all. Hitt often wrote ridiculous sleaze but this is solidly in the crime category, with a bit of kinkiness mixed in just so you know he hasn't gone soft. Erm... so to speak. The one aspect of The Sucker we didn't like were the portentous chapter endings that popped up at regular intervals. Here's an example where Slade Harper is about to do the nasty with a disabled beauty to whom he's taken a shine:
“It's alright,” I said, staring at the metal wheelchair. “I won't be sorry at all.”
And I wasn't.
Here's another one, with a different woman:
“Wait for me,” I said.
“At my place?
“You know where.”
“I know where,” she whispered.
And she did.
It's just a stylistic flourish, a way of ending each chapter with emphasis, but it still feels like overkill. However, in his career Hitt had some misses, so we have to call this one a triumph, considering his spotty oeuvre. The book also has one of the more striking covers you'll find on a Hitt novel, painted by Warren King, whose work verges on impressionistic, particularly in the patch of grass his two figures have chosen to recline upon. Those wheat yellows and sky blues are beautifully combined. He's really grown on us, and if Hitt can maintain at least the level of writing he does here in The Sucker, so will he.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1945—Churchill Given the Sack
In spite of admiring Winston Churchill as a great wartime leader, Britons elect
Clement Attlee the nation's new prime minister in a sweeping victory for the Labour Party over the Conservatives.
1952—Evita Peron Dies
Eva Duarte de Peron, aka Evita, wife of the president of the Argentine Republic, dies from cancer at age 33. Evita had brought the working classes into a position of political power never witnessed before, but was hated by the nation's powerful military class. She is lain to rest in Milan, Italy in a secret grave under a nun's name, but is eventually returned to Argentina for reburial beside her husband in 1974.
1943—Mussolini Calls It Quits
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini steps down as head of the armed forces and the government. It soon becomes clear that Il Duce did not relinquish power voluntarily, but was forced to resign after former Fascist colleagues turned against him. He is later installed by Germany as leader of the Italian Social Republic in the north of the country, but is killed by partisans in 1945.
1915—Ship Capsizes on Lake Michigan
During an outing arranged by Western Electric Co. for its employees and their families, the passenger ship Eastland capsizes in Lake Michigan due to unequal weight distribution. 844 people die, including all the members of 22 different families.
1980—Peter Sellers Dies
British movie star Peter Sellers, whose roles in Dr. Strangelove, Being There and the Pink Panther films established him as the greatest comedic actor of his generation, dies of a heart attack at age fifty-four.
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