Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I remind you that guilty verdicts are for the poor and powerless—and my client is neither.
Surely it's a bad sign that we can kid about the two-tiered justice system of the U.S. and none of you thought, even for a second, “Hey, that's not true!” But alas, we aren't here to deal with systemic injustice. P.I. is the name, and vintage goodies is our game. Alan Hynd's Defenders of the Damned has evocative and effective cover art, with its stern judge, beseeching attorney, and disinterested defendant, but it's uncredited, amazingly. The book consists of short biographies of three famous lawyers—Earl Rogers, Clarence Darrow, and William Joseph Fallon—focusing on the pulp style twists and turns of some of their most interesting cases, with all three attorneys portrayed as the type who weren't above a little trickery and rule bending. Hynd was the author of other non-fiction books, wrote for crime magazines like True Police Cases, and also had a nice run as a crime and mystery novelist with titles like Passport to Treason and Betrayal from the East. Defenders of the Damned was originally published in 1952, and the above Popular Library paperback edition came in 1962.
Alexandra Hay gives convicted criminals much needed re-entry assistance.
What happens when a prison warden's nympho daughter goes to live with her father at a progressively managed correctional institute where the inmates are allowed to roam free over the grounds? You can probably guess. 1,000 Convicts and a Woman has a cartoonishly low rent poster, which is appropriate, because the movie is cartoonishly low rent too. Alexandra Hay stars as Angela, the constantly giggling, hot-blooded daughter who uses her feminine wiles to get some jailhouse lovin' under her father's too-trusting nose. This is often classified as a sexploitation movie, and that's technically true, but it's lightweight, and not very racy. In fact, it was originally released under the innocuous title Fun and Games. Only for its U.S. run was it called 1,000 Convicts and Woman, as well as Story of a Nympho. Both those titles are false advertising, but the movie is probably still worth a glance. It premiered today in 1971.
No tricks here—just two superstars at their very best.
Above is a beautiful Japanese poster for 泥棒成金, or Dorobô narikin, much better known as To Catch a Thief. We bet just seeing Cary Grant and Grace Kelly's faces told you that at a glance. Don't believe the hype in full—Grant and Kelly are two of the era's most mesmerizing stars and are in amazing form, but this film is decent-not-great. It had its Japanese premier today in 1955.
So I couldn't help noticing all the notches on your bedpost. What are those about?
Today we have more elongation for you from the brush of grandmaster illustrator Robert McGinnis. This cover for the 1959 thriller Epitaph for a Tramp features one of his deliberately out-of-proportion femmes fatales, with a long lower half and a small head. He would stretch his girls to freakish lengths as time went by, but we especially like this phase from him. For an example of how unusual his women would get, check out these four examples we shared a while back. And if those intrigue you, there are also numerous examples of later McGinnis on the website of Hard Case Crime, with the best ones appearing here, here, and here.
Epitaph for a Tramp was written by David Markson, and the story involves a detective who finds himself drawn into danger when a mortally stabbed woman staggers through his door and dies. She's the tramp of the title, a woman who in one year of marriage cheated on her husband with—count em—thirteen men. Her cuckolded husband is occasionally sympathetic toward her, which is a bold writerly move for a period when most people—male and female—subjected women to ugly judgments for perceived sexual availability. But Markson was an ambitious author who would go on to become a celebrated literary figure with tales such as This Is Not a Novel and the acclaimed Wittgenstein's Mistress.
Here he does hard-boiled with a cleverness of phrasing that's rare, but often misses the mark too. For example, quips like, “Bare lightbulbs helped the hallway look like something other than the esophagus of a submerged whale,” just don't work. Sometimes a dim hallway can just be a dim hallway. But the story is reasonably interesting and the main character Harry Fannin fits the private dick mold well. As he tries to unmask a murderer he also unmasks a complex, troubled victim, a character who in our experience is unique in mid-century fiction. That's worth a lot, even if the book isn't perfect. We'll see if Markson did better with his second detective entry Epitaph for a Dead-Beat.
The best-laid plans of mice and miscreants often go awry.
This is a striking poster. It was made for the 1970 West German movie Mädchen mit Gewalt, which in Japan was called Shiki-jou Gunrentai, and in English was called The Brutes, among other titles. Basically it's about two sexual predators who meet Helga Anders at a go-kart track and manage to maneuver her to a remote quarry, where they intend to have their way with her. It's an indication of how strange the movie is that its remainder, all seventy minutes of it, takes place in that quarry. Without getting into too much detail, cooperation between the two guys devolves into a deadly enmity, leading to an ending that will provoke comment. It all sounds pretty dodgy, we know, but it's a serious movie, not any sort of nudie flick meant to appeal to your mini-brain. In fact, the most titillating moment you'll get is when you see Astrid Boner's name in the credits. This is real cinema, with a real attempt at a message. Successful? Well... Mädchen mit Gewalt premiered in Germany in 1970, and reached Japan today in 1971.
All you guys down here on the waterfront reek of fish. But that's okay. I used to live by the industrial pig farm, and the men there... pee yew!
Didn't we just feature a cover for Waterfront Girl last month? Nope. That was Waterfront Blonde. Totally different book. Similar themes, though. We wouldn't go so far as to call books about untamable waterfront girls a sub-genre of mid-century fiction, but more than a few tales of that type hit newsstands during the 1950s. This one came from Amos Hatter, aka James W. Lampp, and tells the story of, well, an untamable waterfront girl on the mighty Mississippi. It's from Original Novels, was published in 1952, and the cover is uncredited.
Real love knows no limits. Not even death.
We're circling back to the classic film noir Laura today to share two more promo posters. Previously we showed you a Spanish promo that caught our eye because of its red and violet colors, and a dark Finnish poster that uses a photo of Gene Tierney, but the U.S. promos above are better known. If you haven't seen Laura, it's about a detective who falls in love with a murdered woman. Definitely watch it. It premiered in New York City today in 1944.
The Pocket Books marketing team messes up a near perfect thriller.
This cover for Cornell Woolrich's 1949 thriller Rendezvous in Black was painted by William Wirts, a new name for us, but a guy who deserves credit for a job well done. The editors at Pocket Books, though, did a terrible job, because their cover blurb gives everything away. The plot deals with a man who is driven mad by the death of a loved one and transforms into a vengeance killer. Most of his victims are carefully humanized by Woolrich so that a sense of tragedy is progressively inflicted upon you. You hope the next target will be the one who escapes the killer's clutches or turns the tables. But nope, the blurb tells you none of them survive. How? Because it tells you a police woman is made up a certain way in order to trap the killer. Ergo nobody survives up to the point that the police woman is introduced. And she doesn't show up until the last twenty pages. This is a particularly bad spoiler because the story is constructed around the killer's cat and mouse games with his victims, who as we said before are written in such a way that you really root for them. That's a couple hundred pages of potential suspense tossed in the bin by that indiscreet cover blurb.
Rendezvous in Black is a classic from Woolrich, one of the most left field concepts from a highly creative writer, but the moment you started reading this post any surprises contained in the book were rendered ineffective. We debated using an alternate cover from somewhere online and not mentioning the spoiler, but among the many things we like to discuss here are the decisions made by publishing companies in promoting their books. These decisions include which art to use, or re-use, or use in altered form, whether to over-emphasize violence, and often, whether to promise something far more salcious than the text actually delivers. As the paperback revolution got into full swing during the 1950s publishers often slapped action art on serious works such as 1984, or sex covers on classical literature like Aristarchus of Samos's L'Antiragione. Those are brazen moves, but we don't mind. On the other hand, whoever made this decision for Pocket Books should have been fired. But as it happens, Rendezvous in Black is so interesting and different that it can't be ruined. So we recommend that you read it anyway.
Well, your health coverage looks comprehensive, so I've decided to give you top notch care.
Yet another medical cover today, this one for 1967's The Doctor's Decision by Kerry Mitchell. The art is credited to someone named only Kalin. We think it's safe to conclude that's Victor Kalin, the veteran Dell Publications illustrator behind such classic fronts as Somerset Maugham's Rain and John D. MacDonald's Soft Touch. The author, Kerry Mitchell, was a pseudonym used by several writers, including Lee Pattinson, Ray Slattery, and Richard Wilkes-Hunter, and this tale deals with a plastic surgeon named David Barron who pioneers a radical new surgery, while simultaneously seeing his reputation threatened by scandal. We've run across Mitchell before. Remember Bush Nurse? That's our fave.
Robert Montgomery rides into town and trouble soon follows.
We'd seen the movie adaptation of Dorothy B. Hughes' novel Ride the Pink Horse before, more than once, but decided to watch it again because its premiere date was today in 1947. It differs from the book, of course—it's more streamlined, the real life town of Santa Fe becomes fictional San Pablo, the villains are more proactive, the heartless anti-hero Sailor becomes the not-so-bad Lucky Gagin, and the Mexican girl Pila is an adult instead of a fourteen-year-old. All these changes work fine. The most striking addition is the movie's use of Spanish dialogue, five or six lines worth, untranslated and unsubtitled. It adds authenticity, plus a touch of bonus material for Spanish speakers. Robert Montgomery directs and stars, handling the dual chores solidly. In the end Ride the Pink Horse is a good film noir that has increased in stature over the years. It's always been one of our favorites, but we admit that after seeing so many rote entries it's the quirky ones that tend to stand out. We wouldn't recommend this to novices as their first noir, but if you've seen many and are looking for something that surprises, Ride the Pink Horse will do the job. You can learn more about the movie by reading our detailed write-up about the novel here. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
1947—HUAC Hearings Begin
The House Un-American Activities Committee begins its investigation into Communist infiltration of Hollywood, resulting in a witch hunt that destroys lives, ruins careers, and makes Senator Joseph McCarthy the most feared politician of the era.
1968—Jackie Kennedy Marries
Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy marries Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. The marriage comes as a total surprise to the American public, and results in a terrible backlash against her and also makes her the number one target of paparazzi for years.
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