United they stand, divided they make plea deals.
Sometimes it's all in the title. Could we possibly resist a movie called Hell is a City? Not a chance. The city in question is industrial Manchester, England, and hell is caused by escaped criminal John Crawford when he sets up a heist that turns to murder, subsequently bringing top cop Stanley Baker along to try to crack the case by turning the four crooks against each other. The movie isn't a procedural, but has a few of the elements, and it has some film noir stylings too, though it isn't a noir. What it is, though, is well acted, well shot in numerous outdoor locations, and believable—not always the case for films from the period. Crawford's villain is an incredibly bad guy. He doesn't blanche at assault, rape, or murder, and holds his scheme together through rank intimidation of his criminal partners. It's all justified, he feels, to enable him to retrieve and sell a cache of stolen jewels and flee to life in some foreign land. But first he needs hard cash, and that's where the heist comes in. It goes pear shaped right away when it turns out the satchel he targets is chained to Lois Daine's wrist. He gives her a love tap and that, as they say, is that—he has a staring corpse on his hands. We won't tell you more, except that Hell Is a City has numerous intertwined characters, all interesting, and has an urban setting that by its very dismal nature makes you understand why Crawford wants so badly to be someplace far away. The movie premiered in England in April 1960 and reached the U.S. today the same year.
Pair of Italian posters show that the postman really does ring twice.
Above you see two beautiful Italian posters—one painted, the other a photo-illustration—for the classic film noir Il postino suona sempre due volte, better known as The Postman Always Rings Twice. It premiered in Italy today in 1947. We couldn't even begin to have enough wall space for all the promos we love, but if we owned the painted piece we might be willing to take down the photos of our families to make room. Hah, just kidding, fam. But could you blame us? The poster was painted by Ercole Brini and we think it's close to his best work. We've talked about the movie before. Shorter version: good sex makes a man's life a wreck.
North of the border, south of the border.
We're back into quasi-quarantine where we live, so what better way to use up double the idle time than with an Ace double novel? In The Cut of the Whip a loner named Dan Port fetches up in a dusty Texas oil town and finds bad luck and trouble when his sports car is rammed and totaled. The person who did it was fleeing town with a sheaf of valuable business documents. The owner of those dox—the fugitive's father—pays Port to retrieve them, and soon he finds himself the only person who can foil a kidnapping plot. The previous books we've read by Rabe verged on bizarre in terms of concept, but this outing is more conventional—we suppose because Port was a franchise character. Rabe would eventually wheel him out for six adventures. We missed the Rabe of efforts like The Box and Kill the Boss Good-by, but he's adequate here, if less imaginative. Port blows into town, whips the asses that need whipping, and drifts away to who-know's-where. Just like a franchise character should.
Robert H. Kelston's Kill One, Kill Two, like its partner book, starts with a deadly auto incident. Maybe that's why the novels were paired. But similarities vanish from that point forward. This book is set in Monterrey, Mexico, and opens with a bang when the protagonist runs over a man on a dark highway. Kelston uses this event to frame a set of circular relationships: there's the protagonist Allen McCoy, who is bedding Juanita, a local nude dancer widely considered to be the most beautiful woman in Monterrey, who is watched over by her hot-headed brother, and is lusted after by a knife fighter known as the Shadow, who's acquaintances with an alcoholic blonde temptress of easy virtue, who is having an affair with the dancer's husband, but all along is trying to bed studly Mr. McCoy.
We've given nothing away with that summary. Kelston shoehorns all that into the first thirty or so pages, and you might have to re-read them to keep the connections straight. Who was it that got run over, you're wondering? That would be Juanita's husband Raúl, the guy who's making naughty spoons with the blonde. Thus McCoy is perceived to have gotten a romantic rival out of the way, and is believed by local gossips to now be bedding both the dancer and the blonde. In local macho culture that makes him a pure stud, but for his corporate employers it makes him radioactive. The gossips have it all wrong, though. The death was an accident, a result of drunken driving and darkness. McCoy soon comes to believe that poor Raúl was thrown in front of his car, and must solve the mystery or see his career destroyed by the rumors.
That's all fine, but the entire story turns out to be a fish too big for Kelston to land. He has it on the hook, then sees it wriggle off through pointless dialogue, confused motivations, and general lack of clear direction. We accepted the main character's motivation, but not necessarily his flimsy engineering background, nor his extraordinary bravery and physical competence in the face of danger. After all, he's just a builder. But that's genre fiction for you—on the page anyone can be a stud, even a pasty-ass, red-headed numbers cruncher like Allen McCoy. A cruel editor would have improved this tale, but in the end we enjoyed it anyway, because owing to our background we're predisposed to like adventures set in Latin America. The fact that it came packaged as an Ace double helped. We have a few other Ace doubles in the website, and you can see the whole lot by clicking its keywords below.
Don't be scared—I just want you to be absolutely still for the next five hours while I curl up on your lap.
Above, another promo poster for the classic comedy mystery The Cat and the Canary, with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. We showed you a Swedish promo last year but didn't talk about the film. It's based on a 1922 play by John Willard, which makes it old enough that even the cleverest jokes are probably too recognizable for modern viewers to generate legit laughs. A century is a long time in the evolution of humor. Well, except for your embarrassing country grandpa who thinks it's funny to spit chaw on his arthritic old smellin' hound. Time has stopped for him. Did a while ago. Point is, you've seen these gags reused hundreds of times. But here's what matters. Hope and Goddard have great chemistry and emanate a lot of charm. As films of this sort go, this one has everything: creepy old house in a swamp, a contested inheritance, secret passages, misty gardens, disappearing bodies, a painting with peephole eyes, confounding clues, a love story, and a bang-up climax. It's a great flick. The first version was made in 1927 with Laura La Plante and Creighton Hale, and the latest version was made in 1978 with Honor Blackman and Michael Callan, but this version—the best of the lot we think—premiered in the U.S. today in 1939.
Nightfall is the time when desperate men commit desperate acts.
David Goodis was one of the mid-century era's most successful crafters of crime fiction. Movies based on his books include Dark Passage, the visually dazzling 1983 French film La lune dans le caniveau (The Moon in the Gutter), and the brilliant thriller The Burglar. His drama Nightfall, aka The Dark Chase, tells the story of a man who stumbles upon bank robbers, comes into possession of their loot, but loses it in a wild panic while fleeing a shooting. Months later and many states away, he's trying to make a new life but soon learns cops are trailing him trying to solve the robbery, and the surviving bank robbers have surfaced to demand the cash. He'd better find it or he's mega-screwed, but he literally can't remember what happened to it. He's blacked it out. Like other Goodis novels Nightfall became a movie, though it's hard to see cinema in it when you read it. But Jacques Tourneur had no issues, crafting a 1956 film noir starring Aldo Ray and Anne Bancroft. For us the novel, with its hallucinatory nature and quasi-amnesiac protagonist, wasn't a top thriller, but it was satisfying enough. This Lion Books edition came in 1956 with uncredited cover art.
When the sun's away the crooks will slay.
And speaking of the film noir starring Aldo Ray and Anne Bancroft, we watched it right after finishing the book, and though the novel was pretty dark, the filmmakers decided a little upbeat mood music was on order, so they got the immortal jazz crooner Al Hibbler to sing a theme song. Everybody knows this one. Join right in: Nightfaaaaaaall... and youuuuuuuuuuu... lovely you... underneath the wreath of heaven's pale blue... you are poetry (possibly haiku)... you are melody (maybe in d minor, the saddest of keys)... You get the idea. Don't let us turn you off this film. The theme song is nothing the mute button won't fix.
As we mentioned in the post above, Nightfall was directed by Jacques Tourneur, the heavyweight talent behind the film noir monument Out of the Past, and he has the kind of skills that make an early shot of co-star James Gregory getting on a bus an artistic achievement. Gregory plays an insurance investigator on the trail of $350,000 of missing heist loot, and, as in the novel, the innocent schmuck who accidentally got stuck with it lost it and doesn't remember how or where. That person is played by Ray, who's great in this, as he relates his dilemma in flashbacks and desperately tries to deal with the two murderous robbers who originally stole the cash.
Nightfall is no Out of the Past, but it's a solid film noir entry, well worth watching. Besides Ray and Gregory, the two robbers Brian Keith and Rudy Bond are good, and honey-voiced Bancroft as the femme fatale handles her pivotal role nicely. Credit here also goes to Burnett Guffey, who photographed the movie, and added to his long list of beautiful film noir achievements—Johnny O'Clock, Night Editor, In a Lonely Place, The Sniper, Private Hell 36, Screaming Mimi, and a portfolio of other films. Put Nightfall in your queue. It'll be worth it—once the theme song is over. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1956
Spillane's classic thriller brings death sealed with a kiss.
This is a beautiful paperback edition of Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me, Deadly. We talked about the book way back in 2013. Shorter version: You really think we can tell you something that hasn't already been written about this classic? Kiss Me, Deadly originally appeared in 1952. This version came in 1958 from London based Arthur Barker Limited, no. 42 in its Dragon series, with uncredited cover art. Barker is a pretty obscure publisher that launched in 1938 and was gone by 1969, so this paperback is rare, though less expensive than you'd suspect. Barker also produced a hardback of Kiss Me, Deadly in 1953 that likewise has interesting cover art and a surprisingly low price tag. We'll show you that later.
Some girls just can't get enough dock.
We said recently that untamable girls on the waterfront were an oft used trope in mid-century literature, and since then we keep running across examples. 1954's Wharf Girl by William Manners is another to add to the list. There are actually a few women involved here, according to the rear cover, a Stella, a Kathy, and a Barby, but the actual wharf girl seems to be Stella. We suppose that's her in the uncredited cover art. We can't tell you more without buying the book, and well, that isn't going to happen because the shipping costs for this are out of control. Plus we already have something like two-hundred novels to read. That's not a typo. Will we ever get to them? Well, our city is back in quarantine, so we have a lot more free time now.
The FBI stretches its jurisdiction all the way to Morocco in 1953 thriller.
Above, two beautiful Italian posters for F.B.I. divisione criminale, originally titled La môme vert de gris, but known in the U.S. as Poison Ivy. The film was based on a Peter Cheyney novel also named Poison Ivy, and starred Eddie Constantine as an American G-man in Morocco, and Dominique Wilms as a femme fatale known as—you guessed it—Poison Ivy. We talked about the movie at length in May, so if you're curious have a look here.
Forget it, buster. You look good now but we both know there's a useless tub of lard just dying to get out.
Careful girls—inside every hunk there's a pot-bellied sofa sloth waiting for an opportunity to emerge. All it takes is beer and time. John Garth's Hill Man, published in 1954 by Pyramid Books, concerns opportunity as well. It deals with an opportunistic country boy who marries and beds his way into property and riches. Garth was a pseudonym used by Janice Holt Giles, who under her real name wrote numerous historical novels set in Kentucky. Hill Man isn't a historical novel. It fits more into the long tradition of rural dramas we've talked about often. The cover art on this particular example is by Julian Paul.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1936—First Edition of Life Published
Henry Luce launches Life, a weekly magazine with an emphasis on photo-journalism. Life dominates the U.S. market for more than forty years, publishing scores of iconic photographs that remain some of the most recognizable ever shot, and peaking at one point with a circulation of more than 13.5 million copies a week.
1963—Doctor Who Debuts on BBC
The BBC broadcasts the first episode of Doctor Who, starring William Hartnell as a mysterious alien who time travels in his spaceship, the TARDIS. With his companions, he explores time and space while facing a variety of foes and righting wrongs. The show would become the longest-running science fiction series ever broadcast.
1963—John F. Kennedy Is Assassinated
In Dallas, Texas, U.S. President John F. Kennedy is killed and Texas Governor John B. Connally is seriously wounded as they ride in a motorcade through Dealy Plaza. Lee Harvey Oswald
, an employee of the schoolbook depository from which the shots were suspected to have been fired, was arrested on charges of the murder of a local police officer and was subsequently charged with the Kennedy killing. He denied shooting anyone, claiming he was a patsy, but was killed by Jack Ruby on November 24, before he could be indicted or tried. Today, Americans who believe JFK was killed as the result of a conspiracy are routinely dismissed
in the press, yet the vast majority of them believe Oswald did not act alone.
1959—Max Baer Dies
Former heavyweight boxing champ Max Baer dies of a heart attack in Hollywood, California. Baer had a turbulent career. He lost to Joe Louis in 1935, but two years earlier, in his prime, he defeated German champ and Nazi hero Max Schmeling while wearing a Star of David on his trunks. The victory was his legacy, making him a symbol to Jews, and also to all who hated Nazis.
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