Mogambo features the cruelest beast in all of Africa—and its name is Clark Gable.
As famous as Mogambo is, we'd never seen it, had never read a review of it, and had no idea going in what it was about except that it was a safari movie and a remake of the 1932 adventure Red Dust, which we'd also never seen. There are few hit movies—especially with stars the stature of Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and Grace Kelly—that we don't know at least a little something about. So we cleared the slate, cooked up some popcorn in our special Lindy's hand-cranked popper, and settled in for a screening.
Shot in Kenya, Uganda, French Equatorial Africa (now Central African Republic), and the Tanganyika region of what is now Democratic Republic of Congo, the movie is about a hard-edged safari guide and hunter played by Gable (also the star of Red Dust, by the way) who tries to score with both Gardner and Kelly, and soon has them at each other's throats. These old movies often work on the presumption that the male star is irresistible—period. As a result, screenwriters were sometimes lazy. They'd fail to write the male lead with any charm at all.
That holds true here, as Gable is gruff, rude, twenty years older than Gardner, and almost thirty years older than Kelly. We're fine about the age difference, unlike the “age appropriate” crowd that thinks women are capable of making any decision except ones about whom they love, but because Grant is a complete sourdough some charm would have made Gardner's and Kelly's attraction to him more understandable. Handsome though he may be, here he's nothing more than moustache, hair tonic, and bossiness. But okay, Gardner and Kelly are both in states of need, and Gable is more than happy to introduce them to his bush snake, so what you get is a love triangle folded inside a Technicolor safari adventure. Fine.
The production is spiced up with majestic scenery, nice costumes, realistic animal footage, an overwhelming feel of the exotic, the tantalizing implication of intimacy with two of the most beautiful women in cinema, and a deft, assured performance from Gardner. In fact, while Gable is top billed, Ava gets nearly all the good lines. “Listen, buster,” she scolds Clark, “you and your quick-change acts aren't gonna hang orange blossoms all over me just because you feel the cold weather coming on!” That's a scathing way to call someone old and desperate. But Gable has his moments too. We liked when he blustered, “You know how it is on safari. It's in all the books. The woman always falls for the white hunter and we guys make the most of it.” That's meta, so we hear.
Obviously, tribespeople figure prominently, and you can discern marginal improvement in their portrayal since the days of Weissmuller's Tarzan. They're still just ornamentation in their own lands, but at least none lay down their lives to save a white man who's spent most of his screen time cracking a whip at them. Whew. Overall, we thought Mogambo was decent. Not great, mind you—because Gable deserved to play a more nuanced character and did not have that chance—but it was decent. It premiered today in 1953.
I have something very serious to ask you. I'm ready. And our relationship is ready. Darling... will you lend me your car?
Above: Robert McGinnis cover art for Eugene Mirabelli's 1959 novel The Burning Air, with this Eagle Books edition coming in 1960. It's basically a drama about a young couple with some tricky relationship issues to work out. Like how he's going to get home when she leaves him there.
She's where? Going for a swim? Didn't you tell her the pool hasn't been cleaned for weeks?
This Dutch book cover was made for Jonathan Stagge's novel Death's Old Sweet Song, which first appeared in 1941 and was later published in the Netherlands by Uitgeverij De Ster. The Dutch title is “death sues.” This caught our eye—and gave us a laugh—because it brought to mind an occasion when we rented a cluster of three bungalows with a pool in a Guatemala beach town. We partied all day and night and by the light of the next morning were shocked to see that the pool had become like soup, almost as bad as what you see on this cover. We figured it was a mixture of booze, sunscreen, sweat, windblown dust, and bodily dirt. We couldn't even see the bottom. We felt terrible—but not terrible enough to intervene—as a hotel employee went into that bisque, to well over his head, in order to pull the drain. Later we found the meager remains of a hotel chair in the firepit and remembered we'd burned it when we ran out of firewood. As bad foreigner behavior goes, it was complete. We were banned from the place for life. They even taped photocopies of our passports up at the front desk—so said another group of friends who booked a bungalow there months later. And after we'd gone to town and bought them a new chair. Guess they never heard that holding grudges is unhealthy. Anyway, we found this cover in a Flickr group, so thanks to the original uploader, for both the art and the memory.
You paid the cover charge to get in. Now you have to pay the uncover charge or get out.
The brush behind this cover for Wade Miller's 1946 debut thriller Deadly Weapon was paperback vet Bob Abbett, and it's one of his better pieces in a portfolio filled with top efforts. The book is good too. It's about an Atlanta detective who drives to San Diego to avenge the death of his partner, and as befits such a concept, features excellent Sam Spade-like repartee between main character Walter James and a local cop named Austin Clapp. Some of the action is centered around a burlesque theatre and its headlining peeler Shasta Lynn, but the deadly weapon isn't a femme fatale, as implied by the art, but Walter James himself. The man is hell on wheels. He even uses his car to ram another auto and its occupants over a cliff. Overall, Deadly Weapon is well written, well paced, and well characterized (if a bit saccharine in the romantic subplot). Wade Miller—who was really Bob Wade and Bill Miller acting as one—started his/their career on a good note with this one.
Too bad life doesn't have a rewind button—you could go back to when you wouldn't let me seduce the information out of you.
This is a fantastic piece of art for The Big Bite by Charles Williams. We'd be tempted to say frequent Pan Books illustrator Sam Peffer painted it, but he almost always signed his work in a place where it was not easily cropped or covered, the clever boy. Therefore we've seen only a few confirmed fronts by him where his signature was not present. Well, whoever was responsible for the art, we love this scene. You have a man recieving a severe beatdown as the femme fatale stands in the foreground barely interested. They do bore easily. In addition to the excellent art, this was an entertaining tale. We talked about it last year, and you can see what we thought at this link. It was originaly published in 1956, with this edition coming in 1960.
Tired of checkers, chess, and cards? Has he got a game for you.
Man hunted in the wild by a supposedly more intelligent and powerful foe is a concept used numerous times in Hollywood with great success, perhaps reaching its pinnacle with 1987's sci-fi actioner Predator. The idea goes all the way back to The Most Dangerous Game, a pre-Code chiller starring Joel McCrae, Leslie Banks, and Fay Wray. When a luxury yacht of upper crust types runs aground off the Pacific coast of South America, only McCrae survives. He's landed on a jungle island owned by a mad Russian named Count Zaroff, played with walleyed fervor by Banks, who hunts humans for kicks.
Zaroff's creepy ole stone mansion doesn't look like a place where one might hope to find aid, but McCrae has no choice but to go there. He isn't the only stranded raw meat hanging around. Boats occasionally crash because the Count moved the channel markers that are supposed to warn boaters away from the rocks. With each shipwreck he has new game to hunt. Wray is already on the island, having run aground before McCrae. She has an inkling things are not kosher, and she turns out to be correct.
The movie is stagy and clunky in its expository sequences, like most pre-Code productions, and Wray's acting is a sheer hoot, but there are positives. There's striking outdoor footage shot around Rancho Palos Verdes, which adds excellent imagery to a film that is indisputably a high visual achievement, and that in turn helps the action sequences come across as both gripping and believable. And of course the basic idea always works. Hunter and hunted, a battle of wits, a match to the death. The Most Dangerous Game premiered today in 1932.
*sigh* I'm getting mighty fucking bored on this island. Even my best formal wear doesn't lift my mood anymore. My God. I suddenly have the most dastardly idea. And now we shall play a very dangerous game! Staring like cats! We'll be in danger of enjoying ourselves! Stand against the wall and I'll throw this knife at you. I mean—not at you. Close enough to be dangerous. I mean— Okay, I can see you're not into it. How about a little Russian roulette? That's a fairly dangerous game. Erm... Joel? I think we should flee before he gets to the most dangerous game. We're lost aren't we? I said flee. I didn't say flee with no goddamn idea which way you were going. Are you sure we shouldn't have turned left back there at the bog of doom? Just admit you're lost, Joel. And not to add to your worries, but I'm getting pretty hungry. If I'm snippy it's your fault. Okay, now we're just going in circles. See? He's found us! You never listen! Count! Can you hear me? I'll make you a deal! Take her, and let me leave!
Gunman goes to club to murder mob boss but changes mind and shoots terrible singer instead.
Sometimes you win with these obscure old novels, and sometimes you lose. Since there's so little info on many of them, for us the most important reason whether to buy one is its price. We often pay more for ones we really want, but if it's cheap and the cover art is interesting, we pull the trigger. Hal Braham's 1957's mystery Call Me Deadly was eight dollars, which is a nice bracket, and as a bonus it has an excellent cover by Walter Popp. His dramatic nightclub tableau doesn't correspond to any scene in the story, but purely as an illustration we love it.
What we don't love is that, literarily, there's nothing special here. Ex-cop and recent widow Jim Dillon has been off the L.A. beat for two years and is now an insurance investigator with American Reporting Service. He's ordered to look into the death of a man named John Jasnich who had a large double-indemnity policy with a company—National Casualty—that doubts their client really went over the rail of a ferry into the Pacific Ocean to drown. His corpse hasn't turned up, and as you'll start to suspect early on in the proceedings, it never will.
Close calls with vicious thugs, interludes with three women of very different types, and hard-boiled repartee with various police ex-colleagues and current insurance industry competitors bring Dillon, long and windingly, to a twist ending that pushes into similar territory Chinatown would use seventeen years later. Despite that, the appropriate word for Braham's work here is, we think, perfunctory. There's plenty of mystery, but far less plot impetus than we'd have liked. He published seven other books under his name and the pseudonym Mel Colton, but Call Me Deadly had nothing to encourage us to buy again. Unless it's eight dollars or less.
Think your marriage is difficult? Think again.
Patricia Highsmith is here to tell you that no matter your perceived problems with your spouse, they're actually a traipse down a flowered path, because Vic and Melinda Van Allen, the two main characters of her 1957 drama Deep Water—they have marital problems. Melinda is a serial cheater, and Vic has become so numb over the years that he can't even be bothered to care. Melinda is so brazen she brings her lovers to the house to stay overnight and shows up with them at neighborhood parties. She even neglects and ignores her young daughter. In a fit of pique one night Vic claims to an acquaintance that he killed one of Melinda's ex-lovers—who in reality had simply drifted away—and the reaction he gets makes him feel excellent. When he murders Melinda's next lover for real, and gets away with it, he feels still better. So he murders her next lover...
Patricia Highsmith was the high mistress of sociopathic characters, and Vic Van Allen, coming a couple of years after her famed psycho Tom Ripley, is an amazing creation. He's kind, urbane, low key, and horribly mistreated—all of which makes him a pressure cooker ready to explode. Deep Water is told entirely from his point of view, and its highly interiorized narrative makes you really feel for the guy—even after he starts killing people. The key to dragging forth the reader's sympathy is Highsmith's portrayal of Melinda, who tortures Vic day in and day out, destroying his peace of mind, his reputation, and his masculinity. This is a highly recommendable book, and if you can get the 1961 Pan edition you see here with Sam Peffer cover art, you'll be that much the happier for it.
Some things are too ugly to be prettied up.
A thriller with two of Ernest Hemingway's granddaughters as stars? We had to check it out, especially when we found this beautiful Japanese promo poster. The movie was titled Lipstick, and the Japanese title リップスティック is identical. Margeaux Hemingway plays a New York City model, and her little sister Mariel Hemingway plays her daughter. They become obsessions for a pig of a sexual predator who insinuates his way into their lives, and things don't go well. At all.
Using rape as the central element of thrillers is not very 2022, even as the actual issue exists in perpetuity. Any film that aims for a realistic depiction, no matter how well meaning, opens itself to charges of exploitation. There's no doubt the filmmakers wanted to wrap an issue inside a thriller, which means despite the beautiful cinematography and a setting in the glitzy, glimmery realm of high fashion, there's a disturbing aura of reality that makes the movie tough to watch in places.
However, this is a serious production and deserves a fair assessment. It's adequately-but-not-amazingly acted by Margeaux, co-star Anne Bancroft is solid, Mariel—who was only fifteen at the time but is playing a character of thirteen, and looks it—does adequate work, and Chris Sarandon is believable as their assailant. Lipstick falls into the category could-not-be-made-today™, but overall it's worth a watch—and a post-credits discussion. It premiered in the U.S. in April 1976, and in Japan today the same year.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1966—LSD Declared Illegal in U.S.
LSD, which was originally synthesized by a Swiss doctor and was later secretly used by the CIA on military personnel, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and members of the general public in a project code named MKULTRA, is designated a controlled substance in the United States.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
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