Musiquarium Sep 26 2022
SONGS OF LOVE AND BEAUTY
Rarely has adult contemporary music inspired thoughts quite this adult.


The lovely sleeve you see above for the 1956 George Shearing Quintet album Velvet Carpet features as its cover model the always alluring Vikki Dougan, nicely posed in a gold gown that covers far more of her body than fans could have reasonably expected based on her many racy promo images. The photos of her below actually holding the album while wearing see-through lingerie are more in keeping with her usual modus operandi. Shearing, who was born blind yet became a virtuoso pianist, was a very popular performer beginning in 1950 and continuing though the 1980s. That's a nice run for a musician. We went online and checked out the tunes on this platter. They're pure easy listening, which, contrary to its name, made us uneasy as hell. But as our ears rebelled, Dougan was on hand to soothe our eyes, so it worked out fine.

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Modern Pulp Sep 25 2022
MAN ABOUT TOWN
Matt Dillon gets on an unstoppable roll.


Above is a poster for the U.S. movie The Big Town, which is a drama released today in 1987, set in 1957, based on the 1967 Clark Howard novel The Arm. We like 1950s movies. And we like new movies set during the 1950s. It's always interesting to see an interpretation of the era, versus productions actually made during those years. The Big Town is a fun rendition, as pretty boy Matt Dillon plays a skilled young dice shooter who leaves podunkville Indiana for Chicago and experiences all its pleasures and pains.

On the pleasure side is femme fatale fan dancer Diane Lane, and bringing the pain is Tommy Lee Jones as a gambler who runs a crooked nightspot called the Gem Club—and who happens to be married to Lane. It's always a bad idea to bed a bad man's wife, but it's an even worse idea to break his bank for $15,000. Dillon does both. Later he tries to engineer a high stakes double-cross that will allow him to win the Gem Club in a craps game. Along the road from rags to potential there are plenty of subplots, including revenge, good girl redemption, and the struggle to retain's one's soul.

The Big Town is often called a neo-noir, and though any film with a crime focus and numerous night scenes tends to get that label slapped on it, in this case we feel like the designation is accurate. The movie deals not only with crime and gambling, but also takes passes at burlesque, racism, and the culture clash between ’40s style tough guys and new generation hipsters, with their sculpted hair and rock and roll attitudes. On the acting front, Dillon does a good job, and Jones is excellent as always, doing that unique thing he does. If you're looking for a fast period drama you can certainly do worse.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 24 2022
A FASHION RISK
I know—a magenta coat and white beret are bold choices for a clandestine meeting. But just look at the results.


Deep Is the Pit, for which you see Barye Phillips cover art above, is the story of a thief and killer named Marty Lee, who, like Stringer Bell of The Wire, tries to plow his ill-gotten gains into legitimate business. In this case, he swings a deal to buy the decaying old Stannard Hotel in San Francisco, which he turns into one of the hot spots of the West Coast by installing several themed bars and nightclubs. Since all his crimes were committed under a well established false identity and in disguise, he feels pretty safe, even when hostelry success makes him part of Frisco's highly scrutinized glitterati. There's only one snag—his former girlfriend from his criminal days is still around. But because she wants to make it big as a singer and actress, she has no reason to cross a guy who now owns some of the best clubs in California. Her knowledge of his past is neutralized by her ambition, and that's the only reason he hasn't killed her. Well, not the only reason. She's also great in bed.

He eventually jilts her for the rich daughter of the Stannard clan, Karen, and it's here that we see Marty's true colors. His bride is a virgin, and he pretty much ruins sex for her from the word go by ravaging her like an animal, which is the way he's always done it. Her pain and humiliation don't matter to him. He thinks her growing reluctance and eventual refusal to have sex with him is her fault. Even though he understands on some level that she needs gentleness and affection, he can only take what he wants, at whatever time and as violently as his mood dictates. He inevitably turns back to his old girlfriend, carrying on an affair while his upper crust marriage appears on the surface to be a happy one. Yet at the same time, he's very attached to his wife. It isn't love. It's something more akin to bedazzlement.

H. Vernor Dixon is one of those writers who lacks a strong or notable style, yet still puts a story across entertainingly. We were never tempted to skip even a paragraph. It's at about the two-thirds point that Marty's problems arrive in a bunch. His hotel is robbed by some of the subordinates he trained in the art of theft, an underworld figure with whom he's had dealings starts hanging around the property, and his old girlfriend suddenly wants more than just a singing career—or else. He can't do much about the robbers or the mobster, but he can handle his old flame. If he gets rid of her, his other problems will likely sort themselves out. But in these books supposedly disposable women can have tricks of their own up their sleeves. Deep Is the Pit ultimately hinges on Marty's desperate attempt murder his mistress, which Dixon manages to describe tautly and with good twists. The pit is deep indeed, but for readers falling in is a good time. 

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Femmes Fatales Sep 24 2022
WASHINGTON MONUMENT
Fredi was ready for Hollywood but Hollywood wasn't ready for equality.


U.S. actress Fredi Washington, née Fredericka Washington, who you see here in a candid style backstage shot, had only six credited motion picture roles despite her talent, which makes her a prime example of what black performers endured during the long apartheid era in Hollywood. Her most notable film was 1934's Imitation of Life, a rare integrated drama in which she co-starred with Claudette Colbert, Rochelle Hudson, and Alan Hale. Her limited cinematic choices were one reason why in 1937 she became a founding member of the Negro Actor's Guild, and tirelessly advocated for equality in film and the theatre. Today Washington is remembered for her activism, but also as a pioneer in a field that barely acknowledged her existence, while Imitation of Life is considered a groundbreaking achievement. This photo is undated, and though some sources say it's from 1940, that would be after her film career ended, so we suspect it's from around 1935.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 23 2022
MO WOMEN, MO PROBLEMS
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.
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The Naked City Sep 22 2022
JUST A LITTLE MURDER
It's not a party until someone gets their brains blown out.


The above photo shows the murder scene of a mid-level gangster named Joseph “Little Joe” La Cava, and occurred in New York City on Mulberry Street at the Feast of San Gennaro today in 1939. We'll go out on a limb and say the festive atmosphere took a fatal hit too. Luckily, the celebration usually went for a week, so we suppose it was salvaged. La Cava was gunned down along with Rocco “Chickee” Fagio, who you see below. These images were made by Arthur Fellig, aka Weegee, and are especially well known because the ever clever lensman angled himself to get a photo of Fagio ironically sprawled beneath a scungilli restaurant sign that says O Sole Mio!—which means “my sun,” after the famous Neapolitan song. He used the same trick when shooting other murders, because hey, if it works, just roll with it. Also interesting, cops being cops, the flatfoot closest to La Cava looks incongruously jocular as he chats with a higher-up. If this wasn't the most unforgettable Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy's history it had to be close.
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Vintage Pulp Sep 22 2022
BURNING QUESTION
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.

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Femmes Fatales Sep 21 2022
INTERGALACTIC FASHION
If you think this looks ridiculous you should see my winter wardrobe.

Austrian actress Sybil Danning has a lot of promo images with guns, both realistic and fake, due to her appearance in several over-the-top action movies, including 1984's Euer Weg führt durch die Hölle, aka Jungle Warriors, 1983's Chained Heat, and 1980's Battle Beyond the Stars, for which she shot the above photo. All of those films have attained cult status of varying levels, but the latter is amazing because of the people associated with its production. Its stars included respected actors Robert Vaughan and George Peppard, its screenplay was written by John Sayles, its efx were helmed by James Cameron, and its driving force was schlockmeister supreme Roger Corman. We may take a look at it a bit later, but in either case Danning will return.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 21 2022
DREAD IN THE WATER
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. 

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Vintage Pulp Sep 19 2022
STRIPPED OF HIS CASH
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. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
September 26
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.
September 25
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.
September 24
1992—Sci Fi Channel Launches
In the U.S., the cable network USA debuts the Sci Fi Channel, specializing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal programming. After a slow start, it built its audience and is now a top ten ranked network for male viewers aged 18–54, and women aged 25–54.
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