Vintage Pulp May 23 2019
TRAIN OF EVENTS
Last stop—the city morgue.


Watching lots of movies eventually brings everything your way. The promo poster for Grand Central Murder lured us, and we found ourselves watching an archetypal Sherlockian whodunnit, complete with the villain unmasked in the final moments. When a Broadway showgirl is murdered on a private train car the police gather a gaggle of suspects and go through each of their stories trying to uncover the killer. Among the detainees—her escaped convict boyfriend, her sad sack ex-husband, her jealous co-worker, her phony psychic stepfather, her theatrical understudy, and others, including the convict's lawyer, played by lead actor Van Heflin. Various alibis and reminiscences are shown in flashback until the killer is revealed via a monologue that wraps everything up nice and neat. We wouldn't call the movie screamingly thrilling and funny like the poster does, but it's okay if you like mysteries, and the mass transit backdrop is actually kind of interesting. Grand Central Murder premiered in New York City today in 1942.

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Vintage Pulp May 21 2019
NO BANG FOR THEIR BUCK
Brothers can you spare a production budget?


It's fair to suggest that most blaxploitation movies weren't good in the traditional sense. But The Dynamite Brothers, aka Stud Brown, which premiered in the U.S. this month in 1974, is probably close to the worst movie of the genre. It's a low budget The Wild Ones with a chop socky revenge thriller tacked on, and it has “rush job” scribbled all over it. Everything is off, from the direction to the screenplay to the sound effects. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's films like this that helped kill blaxploitation.
 
Picture the first screening for the studio, Asam Film Company. Director Al Adamson managed to put up a brave front during the shooting schedule, but he's made his final cut and knows the movie is shit. He's cringing. He's slumped so low in his seat he looks like he's lost air pressure. He even considers scuttling for the exit during the second reel. If he stays low, like a crab, he might make it unseen. But he's still there when the lights come up, and various execs and investors are sitting around looking stunned. They're just white guys with money and don't know dick about this blaxploitation thing, so they have no idea what to think.

Finally someone ventures hopefully, “Was that good? Or...”

Someone else: “Al? Al? Where are you?”

Al: *sigh* “I'm down here.”

“What the hell are you doing on the floor?”

“Uh, my back. Laying flat helps with—”

“Were you hiding?

“I was just—”

“Are we fucked?

“Well....”

“Did you FUCK US?

He fucked them. The Dynamite Brothers was an unremitting disaster. It turned out to be the only movie Asam Film Company ever made. Co-star Timothy Brown in particular had to be disappointed with the final product, considering his film debut was the all-time classic M*A*S*H, in which he played Corporal Judson. Top billed Alan Tang also had to be bummed. Back in Hong Kong when he was first approached about the project, someone told him mixing kung-fu into a blaxploitation flick was a no-brainer. Halfway through the screening he began to wonder if he'd misunderstood the meaning of that term.
 
Nevertheless, somehow both he and Brown survived The Dynamite Brothers and went on to have long careers, which is a tribute to their talent and persistence. Al Adamson kept working too, which is possibly a tribute to filmgoers' short memories. But like Bran the Broken in Game of Thrones, allow us to serve as the memory for all humanity here—steer clear of this one like the un-defused bomb it is. Get a tactical robot to delete it from your movie queue. It's baaaad. We don't mean cool-bad or funny-bad. It's just bad-bad.

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Vintage Pulp May 20 2019
RED HOT ROSSANA
I didn't know that a girl like you could make me feel so sad...


A couple of weeks ago we shared a Mexican movie poster we weren't 100% sure was actually from Mexico. This time we're sure—this beautiful promo Antonio Caballero painted for the melodrama La red says right in the lower left corner “impreso en México.” In that previous write-up we also talked about how popular locally produced films were in Mexico before the industry was suffocated by U.S. business and political interests, and this effort is an example. It was made by Reforma Films S.A., based in Mexico City, and starred Libyan born Italian actress Rossana Podesta, Costa Rican actor Crox Alvarado, and U.S. born actor Armando Silvestre. Enticing a burgeoning international star like Podesta over from Europe indicates how established the Mexican film industry was in 1953, when La red was made.

Interestingly, when the movie played in the U.S. it was titled simply Rosanna, which makes sense, because it would be nothing without Podesta. It struck us that even though Toto didn't write their song of obsession “Rosanna” about Podesta, they might as well have. The film begins when a group of men botch a robbery, a shootout commences, and one of the bandits, Antonio, played by Alvarado, tries to help his wounded comrade. But the dying man gasps to Antonio, “Save yourself—for Rossana.” So we know she's a special woman even before seeing her. Antonio does save himself and goes to live on the seaside with Podesta, where the two harvest sea sponges. It's idyllic, but as a wanted thief he has to lay low, which means sending her alone to town to sell their catch. And the men in the town are... well... see below:

I am intrigued by this spicy redhead.

I too find myself somewhat taken with this mysterious chile pepper of a woman.

Perhaps I'll invite her to coffee and a cronut. That's a cross between a croissant and a donut, my friend, and living out there on the idyllic seashore as she does, I bet she's never had one.

I wonder if she's a fan of our great romantic poet Salvador Díaz Mirón?

I'm certain she has no idea how quickly European skin can burn in this tropical climate.

I'm admittedly less high minded than other men, and mainly wonder what she looks like naked, and whether the carpet is red too.

What the hell are all these guys staring— Oh. I think it's me.

Clearly, these trips into town are menacing affairs for Podesta. If you were to screen the sequences at an anti-sexual harassment seminar, every guy in the joint would bow his head in shame. Important to note, though, that within the narrative these aggressively pervy guys are depicted in a negative light, with even the soundtrack music growing ominous. When one of Antonio's robbery compatriots shows up in town, he gets into a shootout that leaves two men dead, and therein are sown the seeds of future troubles. We won't say more, save that the film is stagy, stylized, operatic, almost devoid of dialogue, and largely remembered because of Podesta's role. It all worked well enough to earn the Prix International du film le mieux raconté par l'image, aka the Award for Visual Narration, at the Cannes Film Festival.

Moving on to the poster, have a look at a previous Mexican promo we shared last year. It's here. We'll wait. Back? You'd think it was the same person who painted both, but the reason we wanted you to glance at the other one is because it exemplifies the strange phenomenon of artists within the same film industry biting each other's styles. It happened in Italy and Sweden too. Either through direct influence from the studios, or through osmosis due to mutual association, several Mexican artists delved into this art deco tinged style. Check out Leopoldo Mendoza Andrade here. Interesting, right? You'll see what we mean even more clearly when we share posters from other Mexican artists, for example Juan Antonio Vargas. That'll be soon. La Red premiered in Mexico today in 1953.
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Vintage Pulp May 19 2019
NOTTE GIRLS
Water levels and more rise in Belle/Grier sexploitation romp.


We've had a lot of Pam Grier on this site, and here she is yet again, co-starring with Annie Belle and Anthony Steel in La notte dell'alta marea, aka Twilight of Love, aka Night of the High Tide, an Italo-Canadian sexploitation flick, and probably her most obscure role. An advertising exec played by Steel is looking for the perfect ass for a blue jeans campaign, spots Annie Belle in a sauna, and decides she fits the bill. The funny part of this is he sees her from behind initially and thinks she's male, which tells you quite a bit about Belle's elfish body type. But male or female, her ass will do just fine, and for more than only the ad campaign. She's amenable to Steel's advances, but she has a boyfriend who isn't quite as sharing.

In the midst of this man-against-man for woman's affections melodrama there's still an advertisment to finish, so Steel takes Belle, her boyfriend, a photographer, and a second model played by Grier to Martinique for a photo shoot. This is a pretty sweet spot for location work, and Grier sports a killer afro that looks mighty good with the Caribbean wind blowing through it. Belle, never to be upstaged, has virtually no hair for the wind to play with but wears what must be one of the earliest thong bikinis to appear in cinema, and soon doffs the shoestrings for even less. Strangely, the jeans this entire excursion are supposed to be about never make an appearance.

From Martinique the group ventures to a smaller, uncharted island and promptly get stuck there. With no hope of rescue and tensions rising—like the tide—problems soon occur. Boy problems. Possessiveness problems. Aggression problems. Don't fear though—rescue comes beforeanyone gets seriously hurt, and Belle gets the customary sexploitation send-off, jetting away backed by synth music and a torch singer as a man stares wistfully into the middle distance, wishing he could hold onto her but knowing in his heart he can't. Because she's a free spirit, you see. And free spirits must soar.

Cheesy? Certainly. But this is sexploitation, so we knew the script would be bad. We accepted that, but we wish the beach sequences hadn't been shot through a layer of gauze—though on the whole the film looks great. We also wish Grier's distinctive voice hadn't been dubbed, but as
she speaks no Italian, this was unavoidable. Preferences aside, if you like romantic island erotica this one will please you, though we can't go so far as to call it a good film. But with Belle and Grier sharing the same screen and the same beach it's hard to fail completely. La notte dell'alta marea premiered in Italy today in 1977.

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Vintage Pulp May 12 2019
UNDER PRESSURE
Falling into the gutter is easy. Getting out? Not so much.


When does a movie get too cute for its own good? Possibly when the femme fatale is named Cuddles. Despite that laugh inducing bit of characterization, Underworld U.S.A. is the deadly serious tale of a kid who becomes a career criminal in order to exact revenge upon the hoods who killed his father. Cliff Robertson stars and Dolores Dorn plays the aforementioned Cuddles in this cautionary tale about the inexorable gravity of organized crime, which can suck everybody into a place from which there's no redemption or escape. Samuel Fuller steers the production with a sure hand, Robertson broods, Dorn suffers, gangsters plot and scheme, and the final result is tough and wrenching.

Best line: “I know. I'm drunk. But my brain's okay!”

It's interesting that on many websites Underworld U.S.A. isn't classified as a film noir. But it has most of the elements—overriding sense of doom, moral ambiguity, police corruption, scenes in bars, copious shadows, rain slick streets, extreme close-ups, et al. And Fuller had previously helmed the excellent 1953 film noir Pickup on South Street. But often you'll see Underworld U.S.A. slotted as a drama or melodrama. Well, it's definitely those. Viewers will see that Fuller, who was influenced by pulp novels and tabloids, had a unique vision. While Underworld U.S.A. doesn't stand up against the best film noir has to offer, it's successful on its own terms. It premiered in New York City today in 1961.

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Vintage Pulp May 11 2019
JUMPIN' IN THE BONEYARD
There's a severe Price to pay for being a bad wife.


This French poster was painted by Roger Soubie for the cheeseball horror flick La nuit de tous les mystères, which was better known as House on Haunted Hill. Basically, Vincent Price offers $10,000 to anyone who can spend the night in a scary house, but in the meantime he hopes to get rid of his not-so-loving wife Carol Ohmart. That's not a spoiler—in the first few minutes of the film he tells her he wants her dead. And she him. The question is will he do it? Will she kill him? Or will they kiss and make up? You could watch and learn the answers, but in our opinion, considering how much more sophisticated horror became, this one is little more than an amusing cinematic curiosity, not worth watching, though it's notable for its exteriors of the iconic Ennis House in Los Angeles (see below). House on Haunted Hill opened in the U.S. in 1960 and reached France today in 1961.

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Vintage Pulp May 5 2019
INTO THE GRETA UNKNOWN
Three dimensions would have been plenty. Two probably would have been fine also.


The psychedelic sexploitation flick Four Dimensions of Greta, for which you see a Japanese promo poster above, was originally released in the UK in 1972, and opened in Japan today in 1973. Can you believe this low budget comedy was the first British film to be shown in 3-D? It starred future General Hospital hunk Tristan Rogers, Karen Boyes, Minah Bird, Felicity Devonshire, and Swedish dish Leena Skoog in the story of a journalist who plans to do an article on au pairs, but somehow ends up trying to locate a missing person—the titular Greta Gruber, played by Skoog.
 
So, why are there four dimensions in the title of this 3-D movie? Well, Greta is remembered by four acquaintances, each of whom reveals a different aspect of her personality. Rogers wanders from trippy disco to trippy strip club to trippy coffeehouse and finally learns that she's been kidnapped and imprisoned on a houseboat. It's silly, but if you're old enough to remember Rogers as Robert Scorpio on GH, it may be fun to see him go softcore. But be forewarned—Einstein proved the fourth dimension is time, and you'll never get back what you lose watching this one.

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Vintage Pulp May 2 2019
LATIN AMERICAN IDOL
In the Aztec version of the show being sacrificed on a cross is actually first prize.


This poster for The Living Idol gives a bit of a false impression. The movie isn't the lost world epic implied by the art. Most of it is set in and around the University of Mexico, and deals with an archaeologist who believes he can unlock the secrets of ancient Aztec rituals by using a colleague's daughter as a sort of medium. James Robertson Justice is the obsessed archaeologist, and French actress Liliane Montevecchi stars as Juanita, who may have some mystical connection to the ancient world.

The movie is better than you'd expect. It's serious and intelligent, with a bit of cuteness mixed in, and what's particularly striking is the respect it shows—for a U.S. made movie—toward Mexico and Mexican culture. The default attitude for Mexico in north-of-the-border movies from the period is one of mild patronization, but not here. Give some credit to screenwriter Albert Lewin, but more credit to director René Cardona, who's Cuban, not Mexican, but was certainly versed in the culture and history of the country.

Though no Mexicans appear in major roles, Cardona manages to leave viewers with a sense of wonder about Mexico, and not just its mythic past, but its contemporary aspects too. He treats viewers to a nice tour of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, built in Mexico City in 1910, and one of the most majestic and beautiful centers of learning in the Americas today. Its central campus, built from 1949 to 1952, is even UNESCO protected, which thousands of older universities can't say.

This comes in addition to amazing panoramas of the Aztec ruins at Uxmal, probably the best represented they've ever been in a motion picture. Is the movie good? Not quite. It has many rough patches, and Montevecchi has only two expressions in her acting arsenal—innocent eyed, and bug-eyed. But it all works a bit better than it should, somehow. We cautiously recommend it for Mexicophiles, but keep your expectations in check. The Living Idol opened in the U.S. today in 1957.

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Vintage Pulp Apr 30 2019
SINGAPORE STING
One Wong makes everything right.


This fun poster was made for the 1978 action flick Cleopatra Wong, aka They Call Her...Cleopatra Wong, and it's signed by someone named Eddie Damer. We can find zero information about Mr. Damer, which we like to think is because he moved into another career after being paid for his artistry in handshakes, backslaps, and a rubber check.
 
Obviously Cleopatra Wong was a low(er) budget riff on the blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones, backed by Filipino producer Bobby A. Suarez and made in English with Singaporean actress Marrie Lee in the lead role as an Interpol agent tasked with busting an international counterfeiting ring. These counterfeiters are bad people. They're centered in a Hong Kong nunnery, where they're forcing the nuns to host the operation, and plan to kill them when they've outlived their usefulness. Only Wong and her intrepid team can stop these fiends.
 
There are some positives here, including effective location shooting and Lee's kung fu, but there's also clunky direction, atrocious acting, and a script that must have been written on a typewriter with seven missing keys. The movie sank with barely a ripple upon release, but was revived on the Asian festival circuit in the early 2000s and now is considered a schlock classic. It certainly has all the hallmarks, and overall we think it's worth watching, but you may want to soak your frontal cortex in alcohol beforehand. Cleopatra Wong premiered in Singapore this month in 1978.

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Vintage Pulp Apr 29 2019
PHOTO FINISH
Cleo Moore tries to picture a better life.


The drama Over-Exposed came with the mighty cool promotional poster you see above, and we think it perfectly captures the amoral, tabloid-style themes of the film. Cleo Moore plays a woman at loose ends who meets a kindly photographer and decides to learn his trade. She quickly shows a talent for camera work, moves to New York City, and schemes her way into increasingly better jobs in pursuit of money and fame. She gets plenty of both, and also scores a gig as the house photographer at Club Coco, a mobster backed watering hole where she eventually lands in a big kettle of red hot trouble.

There are aspects of Over-Exposed that play differently now than they would have even a dozen years ago. Richard Crenna as her love interest is bummed to be taking more and more of a back seat as Moore climbs the ladder. This friction is portrayed sympathetically toward Crenna, with Moore shown to be losing her soul, but modern viewers might find this sexist, and point out that ambitious women are nearly always treated shabbily—both in vintage cinema and modern life. So in that sense there's unintended feminist tension to the movie that makes it more complex than you'd expect going in.

You'll see Over-Exposed labeled a film noir in many places, but it's one of those movies that mostly doesn't fit the brief. It isn't until the climax that it has the look and feel of noir. This wasn't uncommon—numerous old movies spent eighty minutes as pure drama before turning to noir stylings to spice up their finales. The Time To Kill, which we talked about a while ago, is a prime examp
le. So is Over-Exposed a film noir? Ultimately, we think not, but when borrowing from the genre it does so better than most. An improbable but enjoyable flick, it premiered this month in 1956.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 24
1930—Amy Johnson Flies from England to Australia
English aviatrix Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia. She had departed from Croydon on May 5 and flown 11,000 miles to complete the feat. Her storied career ends in January 1941 when, while flying a secret mission for Britain, she either bails out into the Thames estuary and drowns, or is mistakenly shot down by British fighter planes. The facts of her death remain clouded today.
May 23
1934—Bonnie and Clyde Are Shot To Death
Outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who traveled the central United States during the Great Depression robbing banks, stores and gas stations, are ambushed and shot to death in Louisiana by a posse of six law officers. Officially, the autopsy report lists seventeen separate entrance wounds on Barrow and twenty-six on Parker, including several head shots on each. So numerous are the bullet holes that an undertaker claims to have difficulty embalming the bodies because they won't hold the embalming fluid.
May 22
1942—Ted Williams Enlists
Baseball player Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox enlists in the United States Marine Corps, where he undergoes flight training and eventually serves as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. The years he lost to World War II (and later another year to the Korean War) considerably diminished his career baseball statistics, but even so, he is indisputably one of greatest players in the history of the sport.
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