Hmph. She didn't crumble to dust. Guess you weren't a vampire after all. Sorry, honey.
You may remember we started on a set of Richard Matheson books several months ago, long before we were thinking about COVID-19, and I Am Legend was always third on the list. There are so many books and stories about humanity being wiped out by flus and viruses. We thought this was one of them. We don't know why, but that was our assumption. The book, though, is actually about vampires. The novel first appeared in 1954, and the Corgi Books edition you see here was published in 1960. The story follows the day-to-day—and night-to-night—existence of man named Robert Neville who lives in a Los Angeles house, from which he kills vampires and forages for food by sunlight, but to which he must retreat every sunset lest he be consumed by rampaging bloodsuckers. He might be the last man on Earth, but how can he know? He's basically tethered to his house as far as a tank of gas can carry him—half to go someplace, half to get back. In that radius he's seen nothing but desolation and vampires.
Most of the narrative deals with him trying to decipher vampire biology as a way to cure or kill them. Everything is covered, from why they hate crosses to why wooden stakes kill them, and the idea of a virus is actually touched upon as a cause of their condition, which is perhaps where we got our mistaken ideas about the book. The science is interesting, but the point is terror and isolation, as the main character's survival is complicated by his occasional bouts of carelessness and despair. Setting aside the usual 1950s social attitudes that don't strike harmonious chords today, the book is effective, and, in parts, legitimately scary. The concept resulted in four film adaptations—1964's The Last Man on Earth, 1971's The Omega Man, and 2007's I Am Legend and I Am Omega. When a book is that kind of cinematic gold mine, you expect it to be good, and it is. We'd even call it a horror monument.
Mixed race woman finds herself in a cultural grey area.
You sometimes hear the term “mixed race,” but as far as black and white in America goes, in practice there isn't any such thing. In the past, half black was termed “mulatto,” a quarter black was “quadroon,” and one eighth black was “octoroon.” The fact that white America invented these terms shows you that whites were obsessed with knowing at all times exactly what the ratio was of cocoa to milk. And in reality, of course, all those people with their various shades were fully black in terms of day-to-day treatment. The same is true in 2020, without the demeaning terminology. Government forms may have a box for mixed race or n/a, but in the real world a person who appears to be even a little black is still treated fully black.
I Passed for White, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1960, deals with this cultural truth. It was based upon a novel by Reba Lee, as told to Mary Hastings Bradley, and stars Sonya Wilde, a white actress. Her mere casting says more than the script can, but even so, this is an interesting little b-movie. Not good, exactly, but certainly watchable. Wilde plays Bernice Lee, a beautiful young woman who'd be happy to be either white or black but can't stand being something in between. Tired of all the unpleasantness and uncertainty, she decides to take the solution available to her and become white, renaming herself Lila Brownell. Respect, career, and romance quickly follow.
The question soon arises for Bernice/Lila of whether she can pretend to be something she's not, whether she can disown her black family, whether she can live in peace when there's the constant fear of discovery, whether she can be to witness racism and, like most of white America, ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist, and whether she can explain to her white husband why she dances so well. It's not possible to explore all this to great depth in ninety-three minutes, but the film doesn't have to because all these questions are familiar to viewers. As we've noted before, science has trash-binned the concept of race because it doesn't exist biologically. I Passed for White is more than sixty years old, yet is still a reminder that, culturally, the day when race doesn't exist is a long, long way off.
The author's lack focus will quickly become clear.
We read Paul Gregory's 1961 sleazer Naked Lens and it was, well, quite disappointing. The cover talks about a character named Alice posing for “those pictures you hear about,” but the book isn't actually about her. It's about a photographer named Mike who wants to transition from news to high art and decides to use any means needed to get there. He takes nude photos of Alice when she's drunk, which for Beacon Books is enough to imply that the story is about her, when in reality she occupies maybe one twentieth of the narrative.
The book is poorly written from start to finish, but the worst part is how Gregory writes dialogue in which characters constantly use each other's names:
“But why, Mike?”
“I don't know why.”
“Well, I want to know, Mike.”
“There's no reason.”
“There's always a reason, Mike, even if you don't realize.”
There's always a reason books are bad, too, even if the author doesn't realize. Laughable dialogue, weak characters, a thin plot, and the empty promise of erotica but no sexual thrills at all. You can skip this one.
It's a movie with the power to make a blind man see.
We may never run out of beautiful Japanese posters. Today we have one for the goofball spy thriller Hyappatsu hyakuchu: Ogon on me. The title on this one gets complicated. It was retitled in English Booted Babe, Busted Boss, and mostly referred to as such. Yeah, pretty bad title. In Japanese it was known as 100発100中 黄金の眼, which means “golden eyes 100 shots out of 100.” That title was shortened in English to just Golden Eyes. We like that better than Booted whatever.
The film was a sequel to Hyappatsu hyakuchu, known in English as Ironfinger. We had somewhat high expectations for this, considering Ironfinger was pretty entertaining in that stupidly funny sort of way. Akira Takarada stars again as Andy Hoshino. He goes to Beirut, is asked by a little girl to kill her father's killer, and is paid for his services with the only currency the girl has—a silver dollar. Neither of them knows that this coin is in reality a priceless Spanish gold medallion covered in silver.
Soon numerous parties are chasing Andy around Beirut, and later Tokyo, trying to retrieve this priceless artifact. The main pursuer is the arch-villain Mr. Stonefeller, a blind Emilio Largo clone (think Thunderball) whose hearing is so precise he can pick foes off with a sniper rifle. So why isn't the movie called Golden Ears? Just doesn't have that snap to it, does it? We guess Toho Company called it Golden Eyes because the villain wants the gold so badly, therefore he has eyes for it, so to speak. Best guess.
The plot is less important than the gags here, and there are a couple of good ones, particularly during a gunfight in which Andy kills several foes by throwing a machine gun at them, then shooting the trigger of the machine gun in mid-air, thereby causing it to fire, plowing the bad guys under like weeds. But still, the sophomore jinx is a real thing, and Golden Eyes has diminished sequel syndrome. It's watchable, though, if likely offensive to anyone of Lebanese descent. You'll see what we mean. It premiered in Japan today in 1968.
Must dodge hook. Must dodge hook. Must dodge hook. Really must dodge hook! Must dodge hook! Must dodge hook! Oww! Motherfuck me! Anyone got more shoe polish? Lebanese Brown if you have it. I ran out before I finished my ears. The irony is he told me he'd learned he was being racist and came up here to wash it off in the bath. Ten more minutes and there'd have been no justification for this. I can hit anything with this pistol. Including d-flat. Here, listen. Isn't that cool? Wait until you hear Miss Tomoni sing, Mr. Stonefeller. This will blow your mind. She's considered the Bob Dylan of Tokyo because of her incisive and politically relevant lyrics.
You're right, she's amazing. And though I'm blind, and technically shouldn't be able to see her, I also find it incredible how she changes costumes multiple times mid-song like that. Oh, that's nothing. The midnight show she goes full frontal. Maybe your off-and-on blindness will be on around then. Room service, sir. You ordered two duck dinners? Surprise! Duck à l'Agent Orange! Gotta run! Hope you die! Go vegan! You can leave my tip on the nightstand! Hi! Commercial Girl here. You haven't seen me for a while, right? Hate to interrupt, but I've been called by the Pulp Intl. girlfriends to put a stop to this endless post. The Pulp guys are on virus lockdown and it's making them a little loopy. But under threat of sexual boycott they're done for today. See you soon!
Big shot attorney finds his defense strategy in tatters.
Above is a poster for The Tattered Dress, an unexpectedly entertaining flick about a craven New York City lawyer who ventures to smalltown Nevada to defend a local big shot against murder charges, only to find that the acquittal breeds a dangerous new enemy. The film stars Jeff Chandler, and amazingly this was the first thing we've seen him in. We were thinking, “Why wasn't this guy a huge star?” He could act, he had presence, and he was great looking. And then we internetted him and learned that died at age forty-two after complications from back surgery. Apparently his surgeon botched the job, cut an artery, and Chandler only survived the operation with the help of 55 pints of infused blood. But he never made it out of the hospital, as subsequent side effects laid him low. What a way to go.
You'd almost think Chandler originally hurt his back carrying The Tattered Dress, because the movie rides almost entirely on him. He gets a nice assist from Jack Carson, and co-stars Jeanne Crain, Gail Russell and super-hottie Elaine Stewart certainly don't hurt, but it's Chandler who's asked to handle all the toughest elements of this heavy courtroom drama, including two long cross-examinations and an emotional closing argument. And it's no wonder he's emotional—thanks to his new enemy that closing argument comes as he's serving as his own counsel, defending himself in court against bribery charges. They say the man who serves as his own counsel has a fool for a client. Chandler has to prove that adage wrong or he's prison toast.
The Tattered Dress goes the route of portraying defense lawyers as devoid of morals, when in the real world it's often prosecutors that are the dodgy ones, but it's still fun to see Chandler progress from pure mercenary to a man with newfound respect for his profession. The “tattered dress” of the title at first seems to refer to a torn dress worn by co-star Elaine Stewart that becomes crucial in the opening case, but we later learn it really refers to dress worn by Lady Justice. Chandler finally understands that the law needs to be protected above all. Too bad it doesn't seem to work that way anywhere except on the silver screen. The Tattered Dress premiered in the U.S. today in 1957.
Don't worry, baby. We have a stand-your-ground law in this state, so theoretically my stalking and murdering this guy shouldn't be a big deal.
Hypothetically speaking, if I botched your husband's defense, would that increase or decrease the odds of the two us having hot filthy sex? So, long story short, banging guys in this convertible has become sort of a way of life. Objection! Melodramatic! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client is extremely rich. Defense rests.
The CDC says we should stay at least six feet apart, but baby, my lips can't reach that far.
CDC, our many non-U.S. readers may need to know, stands for the Centers for Disease Control, and while maybe it's not in the best taste to kid about coronavirus, when did taste ever matter us? There's virus all over the place where we live, but luckily we don't have to leave our place, which is the benefit of having weeks of food in the larder and your entire work life online. Our last foray outside was for PSGP's birthday party last Saturday, for which we made lots of hand sanitizer out of aloe gel, anti-microbial lavender oil, and vodka. These props were intended as a little joke, but our ulterior motive was to remind everyone to take the precautions recommended by health authorities. We predicted that night would be the last hurrah around here for a while and we were right, as now schools, sporting events, and other gatherings of people have been restricted. We're glad we had one last get-together before those changes came, and so far—fingers crossed—all fifty or so people that showed up seem to be fine.
Other people who are getting in a last get-together are the couple on this cover of Len Zinberg's Strange Desires, originally published in 1946 as What D'ya Know for Sure. This great piece was painted for Avon's 1949 edition by Ann Cantor, who we've featured several times, including on Maurice Leblanc's Wanton Venus, one of our personal favorites. Zinberg was the real name of prolific U.S. author Ed Lacy, whose boxing opus Go for the Body we just talked about last week. No boxing in this one, unless clinches count. This is about Hollywood, making movies, industry ambition, redemption for the damaged, and those sorts of things. Just like in Go for the Body the narrative makes a surprising turn near the end, and just like in The Woman Aroused, the story hinges on a disturbed femme fatale. Like we said‚ Zinberg/Lacy was prolific, which we guess means he borrowed from himself occasionally. We should know—we've been borrowing from ourselves here for twelve years. More Zinberg/Lacy coming soon.
If I'd known being evil was this much fun I'd have started doing it years ago.
For a novel of terror and obsession Henry Kane's 1963 thriller Frenzy of Evil has a pretty cheery cover. Apparently being evil is unmitigated joy. Obviously, this is another one of those paintings that was made independently of the book, then grabbed because it was available. It's jarringly out of sync with the title, as well as the story. What you get here is a rather elegantly written tale about a rich old guy and his hot young wife, and the dark road his jealousy and sadism carry him down. Basically, he's convinced she's cheating and decides to murder her bedmate—as soon as he figures out who it is. The funny part is she isn't cheating at all. But the main character is so amoral that the possibility of her fidelity never occurs to him. His mistaken assumption foreshadows several other errors, including a crucial one concerning the identity of his wife's not-really-lover. The story is filled out by numerous other characters, some of whom have their own demons and problems that might push them to consider murder too. Enjoyable stuff from Kane. Our first book from him, but probably not our last.
Who's afraid of him? Nobody anymore.
Isn't this a great poster? It was painted for La femme au gardénia, better known as The Blue Gardenia. Every once in a while you come across an old movie that's so ahead of its time you can't believe what you're seeing. This one is about woman's response to sexual coercion, and law enforcement's reaction to the aftermath. Basically, Anne Baxter, who's five-three and a buck twenty, ends up in the apartment of Raymond Burr, who's six feet and goes at least 230. Burr plies Baxter with booze, and when he later tries to get her horizontal a struggle ensues and he ends up dead. Baxter escapes the apartment, and thanks to the arrival of a very efficient cleaning lady nearly all the evidence of her presence is accidentally erased the next morning before Burr's body is discovered.
So Baxter's scot-free? Well, not quite. There's that whole guilt, edginess, and fear thing, which her roommates notice. And there are a few bits of evidence, which lead to police drawing ever closer. All these are good plot moves. Lacking an identity for the killer, the press begins calling her—the bit of evidence that exists indicates it's a her—the Blue Gardenia, which is a clear Black Dahlia echo. We liked that. And we also liked that, at this point, the film was a thriller built wholly around consent and power. But this was the 1950s. Of course they weren't trying to impart that lesson. What were we thinking? Instead, an ending so pat that it almost ruins the movie comes blundering over the horizon. Is it wrong to suggest watching the first 75 minutes of this and turning it off?
Okay, the movie isn't completely trashed by the ending. It's just that we thought we had something daring on hand, and in reality it's a decent-not-great semi-noir from Fritz Lang that flirts with feminism but decides not to close the deal. However, the story was derived from a novella by author and playwright Vera Caspary, and we can't help wondering if the suits overruled her on a different ending. Probably not, but we'll have to dig that tale up and read it anyway. Regardless, we think the movie is worth watching just for Anne Baxter's bravura performance. And we love the platinum poodle cut she sports too. Plus there's Nat King Cole as, presumably, himself. The Blue Gardenia opened in the U.S. in 1953, and premiered in France today in 1954
Famed director ends up with too many cooks in his kitchen.
The film noir The Lady from Shanghai, starring Hollywood icons Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles, and directed by Welles, premiered in 1947 but reached Australia today in 1948, with this stunning promo poster having been distributed Down Under to help attract audiences. This film had amazing promos in many countries, some of which we'll show you later, and they all spelled Welles' last name correctly, which this one didn't. All the brilliant poster work around this movie is ironic, because Harry Cohn, who was the shot-caller at Columbia Pictures, hated it. He even shelved the flick for a year while he waited for what he deemed to be the best date to release it. When he finally did, what audiences saw was a radically altered version of Welles' original edit.
What did Cohn specifically hate about the film? Foremost there was its length, which was 155 minutes, and which Cohn ordered condensed, with the final running time coming to a mere 88 minutes. He also felt Hayworth didn't have enough close-ups, so he had those shot during extensive re-takes. Hayworth also didn't have a song, which was standard for film noir leading ladies, so Cohn had a number added and had Hayworth's voice dubbed. He hated the lighting, which he felt was a negative result of Welles choosing location work over controlled studio conditions. And he especially hated that Hayworth had agreed to chop off her auburn hair and dye it platinum. The list goes on but you get the point—clashing creative visions. Nothing new in Hollywood.
The Lady from Shanghai finds Welles playing a typical film noir schmo who falls in love with a femme fatale and is drawn into a murder plot. Other familiar film noir tropes include a trip to Mexico (not in the original novel by Sherwood King) and a tense court showdown. But what's decidedly uncommon here is Welles' visual mastery of the cinematic form. His abilities there have been exhaustively discussed and are in no way overrated, but visuals are only part of the filmic equation. There's also narrative pace and story cohesion and emotional tone, and those are areas where the movie runs into a bit of trouble. Since Welles' cut was so much longer (and presumably better) than what has ever been seen by the public, many of those problems were probably introduced by clumsy third parties.
But we can only judge what we see. Since all that missing footage is thought to have been destroyed, it takes a major leap of faith to see a masterpiece in what Welles himself thought was a diced up travesty of his original vision. We don't understand how anyone can truly revere him, yet disregard his artistic opinion. But that's exactly what some contemporary film writers do. We recently read a review that discussed how well the visuals and music work together, but Welles hated the score, which he had no control over and which lacked the subtlety he wanted it to have. We suggest that a critic is trying way too hard when they lavish praise upon a director for something he didn't even do. Welles was a genius—agreement on that point is universal. But even geniuses are not so magical that their abilities can overcome the artistic myopia and careless scissors of studio heads.
The Lady from Shanghai received mixed reviews when released, and ultimately, those reviews strike us as fair. There's plenty here worth seeing, particularly the ravishing Hayworth and nice location work in Acapulco and Sausalito, and of course Welles makes shots like Steph Curry makes 3s. But even so, the final result is good but not great. Not a failure, but not a top notch film noir. Calling The Lady from Shanghai one of the best of the genre is just unfair to the many, many great noirs that were made. Still, if you're a noir fan you should see it. And we're confident you'll enjoy it like we did. On the other hand, if you've never watched a film noir and this happens to be first one you see, we can easily picture you giving a shrug and drifting away from the genre, never to return.
When I ask you to disrobe it doesn't seem like you get excited the way you used to.
The sprawling 1925 medical novel Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1926, but no book was so lofty it couldn't be reworked to fit the pulp paperback aesthetic of the 1950s. We read this way back when we attempted to go through the entire Pulitzer list in order. Some of those books were amazing, like Edna Ferber's So Big, and others made us almost abandon the project. Arrowsmith was somewhere in the middle for us. The subtly sexual art by Barye Phillips fits this classic, because the main character Martin is sort of a serial romancer who can't stick with one woman even when he tries.
Did we ever finish that Pulitzer list? No. Once we learned that even among the best books ever written some are markedly better than others, we began skipping ahead and finally stopped after To Kill a Mockingbird and The Edge of Sadness. Those two very different and indescribably awesome novels completed our interest in deep examinations of the human experience. After those, we wanted to have fun when we read. We moved on to the frights, thrills, and speculations of horror, vintage crime, and sci-fi, and that's where we mainly reside today. But Arrowsmith was interesting and we recommend it for a compelling read.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1910—First Seaplane Takes Flight
Frenchman Henri Fabre, who had studied airplane and propeller designs and had also patented a system of flotation devices, accomplishes the first take-off from water at Martinque, France, in a plane he called Le Canard, or "the duck."
1953—Jim Thorpe Dies
American athlete Jim Thorpe, who was one of the most prolific sportsmen ever and won Olympic gold medals in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon, played American football at the collegiate and professional levels, and also played professional baseball and basketball, dies of a heart attack.
1958—Khrushchev Becomes Premier
Nikita Khrushchev becomes premier of the Soviet Union. During his time in power he is responsible for the partial de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union, and presides over the rise of the early Soviet space program, but his many policy failures lead to him being deposed in October 1964. After his removal he is pensioned off and lives quietly the rest of his life, eventually dying of heart disease in 1971.
1997—Heaven's Gate Cult Members Found Dead
In San Diego, thirty-nine members of a cult called Heaven's Gate are found dead after committing suicide in the belief that a UFO hidden in tail of the Hale-Bopp comet was a signal that it was time to leave Earth for a higher plane of existence. The cult members killed themselves by ingesting pudding and applesauce laced with poison.
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