Some guys just can't see the warning signs.
The cover art on this Planetmonk Books digital re-issue of Charles Willeford's 1956 novel Wild Wives enticed us with its faux-vintage look, plus the fact that this particular publisher has resurrected a few amazing old novels. This story was surprisingly one-note. You get a San Francisco gumshoe who crosses paths with an unhappily married femme fatale who's trouble with a capital T, and to that volatile mix is added a murder and 10,000 hidden bucks. The result is perfunctorily executed by Willeford. It's more frank than you'd expect, both in terms of violence and sex, and it's unusual for the hero's accepting attitude toward a gay character, but overall this isn't one of Willeford's, aka W. Franklin Sanders', top efforts. He's done well in the past, though, so we're confident about returning to him later.
He'll make you love him even if it kills you.
Patricia Highsmith's reputation demands that you read any book of hers you find, so when we ran across This Sweet Sickness we knew it would be good. Originally published in 1960 with this paperback coming from British publisher Great Pan in 1963, she tells the story of another troubled man à la her famous Tom Ripley novels. Here we have David Kelsey, in love with a woman who, inconveniently, is married. No problem, though, because obstacles mean nothing. He's determined to win his prospective love's affections, ignoring the fact that she's both unavailable and uninterested.
The book is told from the perspective of this dangerously deluded man, and his mental dissonance, deftly written by Highsmith, is cringe inducing. In Kelsey's head, everything is proof his love is returned. When the woman he desires is kind, it encourages him. When she's resistant, he assumes she isn't acting of her own accord, but instead is being pressured by her husband. There's nothing she can do—literally nothing—to dissuade Kelsey from the idea that his love for a woman obligates her to love him back. It all leads pretty much where you expect—to conflict, terror, death, and the high, lonely ledge of insanity.
It's fascinating to us that the U.S. born Highsmith was unappreciated in her own country, despite her breakthrough at age twenty-nine with Strangers on a Train. Well, considering she spent her life writing novels while residing mainly in France and Switzerland, we doubt she suffered much from the neglect. She's well remembered now, and deservedly so. This Sweet Sickness is an interesting and relevant book, and we highly recommend it.
She's just wading for something to happen.
Above, a pretty poster for Hito natsu no kankei, which starred Minako Mizushima, along with Izumi Shima and Tamaki Katsura. There's no English title for this, but if you were to translate ひと夏の関係 it would mean something like “summer relationship.” On the other hand, Hito natsu no kankei means something like “one person's life.” So there you go. This premiered in Japan today in 1978.
Closer... closer... come just a leeetle closer, my unsuspecting little morsel.
This interesting Technicolor lithograph from Colortone Line published in 1957 stars an unknown red-haired model and is titled “Inviting Eyes.” But we think “uninviting eyes” might be more descriptive. Is it just us, or does the model look like a cat about to rip apart a helpless little bird? She's less intense in other lithos, and there are many, which indicates that she was probably a famous model. But we can't place her. We know—you count on us for this stuff, but even Joe DiMaggio struck out once in a while. As a consolation for our general ineptitude, we have two more of her lithos below. Notice the third one is actually from the same session as above. That satiny bed in the background confirms it. Know who this model is? Drop us a line.
Please help me. My husband is on death row and I need to save him so I can kill his cheating ass myself.
These two posters were made to promote the film noir Black Angel, which starred June Vincent, Dan Duryea, Doris Dowling, and Peter Lorre in a story credited to high concept author Cornell Woolrich. But we gather nothing survived from Woolrich except the ending. When a man is convicted of his mistress's murder, the jailed man's cheated upon but noble wife tries to prove her husband innocent with the help of the murdered woman's ex-husband, who, though cuckolded, agrees that the wrong person is ticketed for Old Sparky. They set their sights on shady nightclub owner Peter Lorre and decide to infiltrate his operation in order to find proof he was the real killer. Naturally, as this heartbroken and mismatched pair dig up clues and investigate shady characters, feelings get confused. As in many noirs, there's a final act twist, and the one used here is pretty good, helping to elevate an average thriller to something a bit more memorable. Within the genre it's a significant film, and reasonably enjoyable to watch. Black Angel premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.
Unstoppable forces meet immovable opinions in John D. MacDonald's novels.
John D. MacDonald is a polemical writer. We've jumped around his lengthy bibliography enough to be intimately familiar with his strong opinions about a wide ranging array of subjects. His basic approach is, “I've thought about this social phenomenon/cultural development/historical factoid much more carefully than anybody and here's the ironclad dogma I've developed about it.” Which is fine, we guess. His observations about the inexorable direction of civilization remain insightful half a century later. We've built a house of cards and MacDonald took pains to point that out, with intelligence and some wit. But in seven books we've read, which he wrote in three different decades, he consistently cheats when writing about people, choosing in general to portray them as weak willed cardboard cutouts so they serve as foils for his sociological philosophizing.
This, more than any other reason, is why so many contemporary readers say MacDonald's writing hasn't aged well. But in our opinion he's still worth reading. There's real menace in his work, which is job one for a thriller author. In 1953's Dead Low Tide his hero is suspected of using a spear gun to skewer his boss, seemingly over either a real estate project or the man's slinky wife, and someone may be setting him up for the crime. His actual prospective love interest, a longtime neighbor, is drawn into the mess in her efforts to provide an alibi. MacDonald dishes out the twists, despairs the loss of Florida wilderness to fast-buck builders, and laments what's in the hearts of men. It's a good book, but you don't need us to tell you that. The man sold a skillion novels for a reason. We're moving on to The Executioners after this, which is the source material for the film adaptation Cape Fear, and we have high expectations.
You'll need to use some deodorant before I do anything like that again.
1964's The Mark of a Man tells the story of a mill worker in a dead end town who has simple desires, but whose girlfriend wants him to show more ambition. You know that's a recipe for trouble. Collier's prose is better than normal for Midwood, according to one review we read, but we're more interested, as usual, in artist Paul Rader, who was showcased on scores of Midwood covers and is great here as well. We've featured him often, but if you're unfamiliar with his work we suggest you behold his genius here, here, here, and here. You'll be glad you did.
The movie is n° 2 but its star is second to none.
There sure are lots of Emmanuelle/Emanuelle movies out there. Sylvia Kristel, Laura Gemser, Monique Gabrielle, Olinka Hardiman, Krista Allen, Natasja Vermeer, and many others inhabited characters with that name. But we'd never heard of Shulamith Lasri, aka Julie Margo, nor her contribution to the pantheon Emanuelle nera n° 2, aka The New Black Emanuelle. Pulp Intl. abhors a vacuum so we figured what the hell and decided to check the movie out. Plotwise Lasri is a famous model who's had some sort of break with reality and is in a mental institution trying, with the help of doctors, to restore memories that might be the key to her trauma
Sounds deadly serious, doesn't it? But like many serious low budget movies, unintentional humor rears its clumsy head. At one point Lasri disrobes and Danielle Ellison gapes at her and says, “Your body. You're like a queen of the night. Or a panther.” At which point Lasri forms a claw with her hand and goes, “Grrrrr...” Frickin' hilarious. The two then dance naked, as women often do when they hang out together. Does Lasri ever get her head straight? Maybe. But even if her mind is cured, her body will remain bonkers, and that's what these movies are all about. Emanuelle nera n° 2 premiered in Italy today in 1976.
Paperback publishers double down on a legendary model.
Bettie Page has long been an inspiration in multiple media, and you can include paperback art on the list. These two covers for authors Day Keene and Jack Moore, published in 1959 and 1962 respectively, use Page's instantly recognizable form to draw the eyes of newsstand browsers, a tactic we assume was a wild success. We love both of these. There are even others from the period. The artist on both of these is the legendary Unknown, by far the most prolific mid-century paperback illustrator of all time. We'll doubtless run across more from the same genius later.
Mysterious spiritualist can see everyone's future but his own.
For a moment Austrian born, Turkish descended actor Turhan Bey was a star, a status he achieved through a long, careful slog through numerous supporting film roles beginning in 1941. The Amazing Mr. X, aka The Spiritualist, is a movie that's his. He receives a rare top billing, and in playing a suave, mysterious seer of the future who hails from unknown shores, acts a part seemingly written for him.
Bey uses his psychic powers to warn rich widow Lynn Bari against remarrying. He's a phony, of course, but his performance is enough to hook Bari, who indeed begins to have second thoughts about tying the knot. When Bey claims he can contact her dead husband she jumps at the opportunity. A few cheap special effects convince her she's really contacted the netherworld. And of course we soon learn that Bey and his partner are doing all this to fleece Bari of her fortune.
If Bey were a real medium he'd know complications will arise. What kind? Serious and unexpected ones that snare him in a plot not of his own devising. Despite the twists, The Amazing Mr. X is murky and lacking in subtlety, and parts of it come across as comedy, so it's no surprise it wasn't the breakthrough hit Bey desired. Today it's a public domain movie available as a low quality television rip, and seems to be nearly forgotten.
It premiered in the U.S. today in 1948, and soon afterward Bey's career began slipping off the rails. He made only three movies in the next five years, then found himself back in Austria working as a photographer. His Hollywood moment had passed, though he'd return during the 1990s and score some television roles. But even if The Amazing Mr. X isn't great, in watching the cool and exotic Bey we understood why Hollywood wanted to make him a star.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1920—U.S. Women Gain Right To Vote
The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified despite heavy conservative opposition. It states that no U.S. citizen can be denied the right to vote because of their gender.
1958—Lolita is Published in the U.S.
Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita, about a man's sexual obsession with a pre-pubescent girl, is published in the United States. It had been originally published in Paris three years earlier.
1953—NA Launches Recovery Program
Narcotics Anonymous, a twelve-step program of drug addiction recovery modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, holds its first meeting in Los Angeles, California.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
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