Revenge is a dish best served on land. Served at sea it might come back up the wrong way.
Mort Engle art fronts this Dell edition of Frank Kane's 1962 novel The Conspirators, the improbable tale of a tycoon named Howard Carter who takes an ill-fated yachting trip from New York City to the French Riviera and onward toward Crete and Turkey with his wife, lawyer, and various acquaintances. Carter is not a nice guy, while his guests are mainly sniveling, underhanded, and weak. Why then has he invited them onto his yacht? Good question. He plans to hold them helpless while the machinery of revenge churns. They tried to double-cross him on a land deal, which in reality was an elaborate loyalty test/entrapment he set up in the first place. He can't wait to see their faces when he reveals that they've profited nothing except maybe prison terms for embezzlement, and, stuck on the boat, they can do nothing to help themselves—except possibly beg for mercy.
But Carter hasn't considered that this disloyal crowd might fight back. They might, for example, knock him over the head and toss him overboard. We didn't blame them a bit for deep-sixing him. Carter is one of the meanest characters we've come across in fiction. There's an Ayn Randian shading to his portrayal, and you already know we hate Rand's objectivist horseshit. The land swindle was even over a parcel named Galt, just to make Kane's thinking clear. In any case, sending Carter over the side is not the end of the conspirators' problems, but we won't tell you more of the plot except to say that it's malarky. But Kane can write, so the story comes across mostly okay. We can't say we were enamored of him repeatedly describing one of the characters—a blonde woman—as “the snowtop.” That's just bizarre. But all authors have quirks. The Conspirators is an entertaining voyage.
Gemser travels to many distant cities, and meets the worst people in every one of them.
To say that Laura Gemser's Emanuelle films are hit and miss is an understatement of epic proportions. While early entries have the happy softcore feel needed for thought-free diversion and occasional boners, later offerings veer into dark territory. Emanuelle - Perché violenza alle donne? is in the latter category. An Italian production, the title translates as “Emanuelle - Why violence against women?” Erotic cinema and social commentary don't usually mix well—not because they're mutually exclusive, but because the filmmakers never have the skill to pull it off. In the U.S. the movie was retitled Emanuelle Around the World, which sounds fine, but its international English title was changed to The Degradation of Emanuelle. Uh oh.
Gemser's adventures begin in San Francisco when her New York based photo-journalist character enjoys a satisfying boning in the back of a truck. But soon she's off on her next assignment, a titillating expose of a Kama Sutra commune in Asia. Once there she meets creepy guru George Eastman and uses her superior sexual skills to make his holiness transcendentally ejaculate too fast. Up to this point Perché violenza alle donne? is somewhat fun. But next Gemser meets up with pal Karin Schubert in Rome and joins an assignment to expose a sexual slavery ring. Wait—didn't she do that in Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade? Yup, but slavers never quit. This collection of bad men are unusually horrible. One is is a burn victim who rapes his captives. Another has a penchant for bestiality.
Obviously, during the 1970s filmmakers didn't really understand the idea of unintentionally minimizing serious subject matter the same way they do today. It was the “what-the-fuck-let's-give-it-a-try” era, and taking such risks produced some of the greatest cinema ever. But in this case writer/director Joe D'Amato and co-writers Maria Pia Fusco and Gianfranco Clerici failed. Badly. A movie on the subject of slavery and rape would be unpleasant but important if it were a Claire Denis drama or a Laura Poitras documentary. Mixing it into a flyweight sex film doesn't add dramatic weight—it adds discordance, embarrassment, and insult. It was a total miscalculation. You could potentially watch the film until Gemser departs the Kama Sutra commune, then turn it off. If you don't, you have nobody to blame but yourself.
However, we try to see the good in every movie we screen, so we should note that there are some high points. We'll list them. The Emanuelle films were typically shot in exotic locales, and in this case not only does D'Amato set scenes in New York City and San Francisco, but in Kathmandu, Rome, Hong Kong, and—for real—Teheran. Gemser is a limited actress, but one who always does her best with preposterous scripting. Schubert is a stolid co-star. Underutilized Don Powell is always a welcome sight. And lastly, many of the production photos, some of which appear below, are interesting. That's about all the good we can find. We'll just slide Emanuelle - Perché violenza alle donne? into ye olde metaphorical trash bin and forget it ever happened. It premiered in Italy today in 1977.
It's you and me, baby, ’til death do us part. What's your name again?
Here's a quick quiz for you. Is the following passage from a crime novel or a romance? There was one truth between us, one truth that would never be untrue. Whatever this animal thing inside me was, there was something inside her that was a mate for it. I felt that nothing could ever change that. It had to be brought alive again. It had to live and burn its own fire and be electric with its own voltage.
Those lines are from Richard Himmel's 1950 thriller I'll Find You, aka It's Murder, Maguire, first in a series of books starring mobbed up Chicago lawyer Johnny Maguire. The passage illustrates something we've noted before—that crime novels and romance novels sometimes intersect. Fictional tough guys occasionally fall head over heels in love, and when they do, the prose describing that love—in some author's hands—can be as overwrought as what you'd find in any romance novel.
In this story, Maguire, who must be one of the dumbest smart characters in crime fiction, falls for a deceased friend's wife who later fakes her own suicide. While the police believe she's dead, he never buys it, and risks his career and safety to locate her. He finds her living under a new identity and refuses to let her get away from him again—which is exactly as stalkerish as it sounds, considering he barely knew her before she vanished. She eventually submits to his overbearing attentions, but sadly, malign actors may ruin their love story.
It's surprising to us that there was a sequel, but Himmel's crime-romance must have struck a nerve with the reading public. It didn't strike one with us, but we didn't dislike it. We felt that it was eye-rollingly saccharine, and we found Himmel's dialogue a bit stilted. On the plus side, Maguire is funny at times, and his friend-with-benefits relationship with a supporting character named Tina has the potential to be engaging, assuming she hangs around. We'll see what develops in book two.
This flower is toxic—to thieves and killers.
We've been on a movie binge, so we have one to discuss for the third day in a row. Above is a poster for the 1968 action-drama Hibotan bakuto, aka Red Peony Gambler. It's fair to call the film a classic. It was directed by the legendary Norifumi Suzuki, and starred Junko Fuji and Ken Takakura. Fuji plays a wandering gambler seeking retribution for her father, who was murdered by an unknown bandit. The killer left behind one clue—a distinctive cloth wallet that Fuji now carries with her. Ultimately she finds her father's killer. No surprise there—that's the entire point. But revenge, unsurprisingly, is more complicated than she'd imagined.
When a movie spawns multiple sequels it's a safe bet it's good, and this one had seven follow-ups. Hibotan bakuto has nearly everything you want from a sword opera. The choreographed action, while not fully convincing, is fun. The direction and cinematography are excellent. And Fuji crafts an interesting performance, staring unblinkingly into the middle distance, looking grim, exuding a compelling coolness and self-containment. Overall, we found the movie very worthwhile. We'll check out at least one or two of the sequels and report back. Hibotan bakuto premiered in Japan today in 1968.
I've studied organ rejection extensively. Trust me—mine is compatible with your body.
Yes, it's still more medical sleaze—1968's Second-Year Intern by Val Munroe, from Softcover Library with an uncredited cover. We told you we'll never run out of these, nor of stupid shit to say about them. Munroe, aka Frank Castle, wrote one of the better sleaze books of the 1950s in Carnival of Passion, which we discussed here. And here, actually. We'd love to see what he can do in a hospital setting, but with more than a hundred books to read, well, sometimes you have to say no.
Tracy and Castle try to avoid a watery grave in low budget crime thriller.
Above is a rare poster for the 1947 drama High Tide, which starred Lee Tracy and Don Castle as an editor of a fictional Los Angeles newspaper and a private investigator who crash while driving on what is presumably the Pacific Coast Highway, and find themselves immobilized in the wreckage. Trapped and thinking they're doomed to drown when the sea rises, they discuss the events leading up to their mishap. It's a b-movie all the way, a mere seventy minutes long, with stock footage, day-for-night shooting, and mise-en-scène on the more static end of the spectrum, but the story is interesting and the film noir flourishes are fun.
Some of the dialogue scores too: “He's having a slight attack of rigor mortis right in the middle of my living room floor.” That's not bad. We know, of course, that Tracy and Castle didn't just drive off the PCH but crashed for a reason pivotal to the plot. No spoiler there. It's an assumption you'll have made just reading the film's synopsis. We can't recommend High Tide strongly because it's too bottom bin to be really exciting, but it might give you intermittent pleasures anyway. It's certainly instructive in terms of making a workable movie with very little money. It premiered today in 1947.
I've spotted him. He's in front of that rear projection of the main lobby of Union Station. Hey, that's strange. That looks like our rear projection, only reversed. The rear projection of Los Angeles is lovely tonight. But not as lovely as you, my dear. Driver, step on it. We've got to outrun that projectionist.
Think your boss is bad? Then you've never dealt with a mob boss.
Falling into the category of pleasant surprises, The Mob, for which you see an evocative promo poster above, stars Broderick Crawford as a cop sent to infiltrate an organized crime syndicate. You've seen the idea before. He works his way up the ladder and brings the bad guys down, but this iteration comes with brisk pacing, a set of unpredictable twists, and a supporting cast that includes Ernest Borgine, Richard Kiley, and Lynn Baggett. If you keep your eyes open you might even spot Charles Bronson.
Crawford had already won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for 1949's All the King's Men, so he unsurprisingly does a bang-up job in this film, instilling his deep cover cop with believable toughness and a gruff but relatable humanity. Crawford would later appear in such excellent films as Scandal Sheet, New York Confidential, Born Yesterday, and Human Desire, but The Mob may be his underrated classic.
The only flaw with this film, in our opinion, is a goofball denouement. We suppose, after ninety minutes of almost nonstop high tension, the filmmakers wanted audiences to leave smiling, and we're sure they did, because the scene, while dumb, is pretty funny. But in any case, we recommend giving The Mob a whirl. You'll enjoy it. It opened nationally in the U.S. in late September, but had its actual debut at special premiere today in Dayton, Ohio (why, we don't know) in 1951.
De Wulf makes space among French paperback artists.
This is a nice cover for 1957's Lucile et la volupté, by Albrecht Jhonn for Les Presses de la Nuit. The woman here holding a paint brush against a blank white background looks rendered in mostly colored pencils, with a watercolor assist in the hair. We like the suggestion that she painted the author's name, but the signature that matters here is that of prolific cover artist Jef de Wulf, who signed this mostly empty piece on the lefthand edge. He and certain other French illustrators worked in a simple style compared to most of the names in U.S. paperback art, but there's a breeziness to their output that we enjoy. Obviously, French illustrators like Aslan, Jean David, René Caillé, and others are comparable to anyone, and their highly accomplished art is collectible, but French publishers were also willing to embrace this sort of sparse, spacious visual style.
Listen, baby, I steal, extort, and sell drugs. You had to expect me to have unconventional views on relationships.
This photo cover for David Williams' juvie delinquent novel Basement Gang is one we've admired for years. Enticed by its colors and out-of-focus foreground figure, and finally finding it at a good price, we snagged a copy. Originally published in 1953 by Complete Novel Magazine, with the above edition coming the same year from Intimate Novels, it's a cautionary tale told in detailed if clinical style following Bronx born Kathie Melton, who out of boredom dumps her solid boyfriend Hank, is lured through the forbidden doorway of the local underground club Comets, and is soon drunk, drugged, and de-virginized to the limits of her ripe young body.
Kathie is willing to repeatedly indulge in all these activities, but she hates that the hepcats with whom she's hooked up are criminals. Hey, sitting around being disaffected all day requires some sort of funding. Kathie rolls with the life of petty crime, however when a romantic rival sets her up to be beaten and (almost) raped by a dangerous thug, the square life starts to look good again. But leaving Comets and co. isn't simple. As juvenile delinquent fiction goes, Williams did a good job with this one, even if his prose doesn't invite deep emotional involvement. We think it was his only novel, but just in case we'll keep our eyes open for more.
I used to show up with a cloak and scythe, but I learned it's faster to wear a suit and work at the corporate level.
We should start calling Robert McGinnis Robert McAgainis, because he keeps showing up. According to archivist Art Scott, McGinnis painted covers for 1,068 titles in more than 1,400 editions. He is, quite simply, the king of paperback illustrators. He painted the above effort featuring a tough guy loomed over by a femme fatale on a poster for William R. Cox's 1961 thriller Death Comes Early, the tale of a tough nightclub owner who tries to solve the murder of his best friend. The book has a marvelous tone to it, with a more colorful, grittier feel than most crime novels. The women have mileage, the men are impure, and there are few clear motivations in the book's realm of organized crime and dodgy police. While all the characters are interesting, protagonist Jack Ware and his love/hate interest Lila Sharp stand out. Cox's plot unfolds sensibly, as the murder first seems to be about a gambling debt, then something more sinister. We're already on the prowl for more from him.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—Warren Commission Issues Report
The Warren Commission, which had been convened to examine the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's assassination, releases its final report, which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. Today, up to 81% of Americans are troubled
by the official account of the assassination.
1934—Queen Mary Launched
The RMS Queen Mary, three-and-a-half years in the making, launches from Clydebank, Scotland. The steamship enters passenger service in May 1936 and sails the North Atlantic Ocean until 1967. Today she is a museum and tourist attraction anchored in Long Beach, U.S.A.
1983—Nuclear Holocaust Averted
Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov, whose job involves detection of enemy missiles, is warned by Soviet computers that the United States has launched a nuclear missile at Russia. Petrov deviates from procedure, and, instead of informing superiors, decides the detection is a glitch. When the computer warns of four more inbound missiles he decides, under much greater pressure this time, that the detections are also false. Soviet doctrine at the time dictates an immediate and full retaliatory strike, so Petrov's decision to leave his superiors out of the loop very possibly prevents humanity's obliteration. Petrov's actions remain a secret until 1988, but ultimately he is honored at the United Nations.
2002—Mystery Space Object Crashes in Russia
In an occurrence known as the Vitim Event, an object crashes to the Earth in Siberia and explodes with a force estimated at 4 to 5 kilotons by Russian scientists. An expedition to the site finds the landscape leveled and the soil contaminated by high levels of radioactivity. It is thought that the object was a comet nucleus with a diameter of 50 to 100 meters.
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