George Raft does the heavy lifting in 1935 crime thriller.
Is there any vintage movie star as overlooked these days as George Raft? The man was one of the top box office draws of the 1930s and had a string of hits through the 1940s and into the 1950s, including the 1959 smash Some Like It Hot. He was an ace stage dancer at the beginning of his career, but onscreen this natural athlete strikes many modern viewers as too dumpy for the tough guy roles he pioneered. Which makes it ironic that he was associated in real life with several gangsters, which led to him appearing in court, and in turn led to the public believing he was really living the thug life. Rather than hurting his popularity, the whiff of criminality made him more popular—something to keep in mind whenever some self-appointed sociologist slams kids for liking rappers.
Above you see a poster for one of Raft's biggest successes, the 1935 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel The Glass Key. A 1942 version would also be a big hit for Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and the fact that it was rebooted just seven years after the original would seem to tell you plenty. But Raft's version isn't bad. We think it's simply a case of technical advances in the process of shooting films and the continuing popularity of Hammett making the property an attractive one to redo. Watching both movies back to back is a clinic in how quickly filmmaking advanced as the ’40s rolled around, particularly ideas around staging and editing action.
Even so, Raft made this earlier version of The Glass Key a hit by virtue of his star power, despite the fact that critics were not overly impressed with the film. No less a figure than Graham Greene said it was “unimaginatively gangster,” which is a curiously millennial turn-of-phrase. But Raft, playing the capable right hand man of a top underworld figure who's on the verge of open warfare with his enemies, doesn't deserve any of the blame. His hard boiled persona is the only reason this otherwise static film is worth watching. The Glass Key premiered in the U.S. today in 1935.
More people are talking about alien visits but they still aren't happening.
Have you noticed the uptick in talk about UFOs the last couple of months? The subject is being discussed on websites like Scientific American and BBC, in the pages of publications like the New York Times, and even in the corridors of power in in Washington, D.C., where a while back Congress demanded that the Pentagon produce a report on the subject. Donald Trump and Barack Obama have talked about it. Retired Nevada Senator Harry Reid even went so far as to say that weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin may have fragments of a crashed UFO in its possession.
All we have to say is here we go again. We know a lot of people really believe in the existence of alien UFOs, but here's when we'll believe: when one arrives, an alien climbs out and says. “Greetings, Earthling. Take me to your leader. We ask because we couldn't figure out which of you is in charge of this clusterfuck.” Let us be clear. We aren'tUFO agnostics. Agnostic would be to neither believe nor disbelieve—in other words to cop out. We're UFO atheists. When the only alleged evidence consists of hearsay, anecdotes, blurry photos of pie tins on strings, and indistinct FLIR footage, we feel safe saying they don't exist.
The idea of UFO sightings being legit hinges upon numerous assumptions. That aliens have the ability to come here. That they have the ability to come here and want to observe us. That they want to observe us and prefer to do it up close rather than from a vast distance. That they want to observe us up close rather than from a distance and aren't interested in disguising themselves. And that their up close methods of observation would be detectable to us in the first place. Think stealth or nanotechnology. We human doofuses already have the basics of those figured out. Aliens would have the capability to observe us by using machines the size of gnats, a far more likely option than soaring around the sky chased by F-35s.
The list of assumptions UFO believers gloss over goes on, but the biggest problem, in our view, is that aliens could learn far more about us from our broadcasts and data emissions than in person. Even our detection and defense capabilities, assuming they wanted to understand those, would be easier to learn from the math that built them, rather than with field encounters. They could also, from millions of miles away, decipher our languages, observe our many warring cultures, ponder our crazy taboos, note our hundreds of fanciful religions, puzzle over our destruction of the very environment we need to survive, be horrified over our caste systems based on the presence of a pigmenting chemical in our skin cells, and be astounded over the fact that most of the above is true because we've created a global system that elevates and rewards ruthless, dangerous people. Some of those people are smart, but many of them are sociopaths, and all the major tribes of Earth (U.S., Russia, China, et al) are led by people prone to violence. Would aliens really want to bother with creatures like that?
So while we keep up with UFO reporting—as required by our status as a pulp website—we don't believe aliens are the cause. If they're anything, they're advanced drones. But the alien UFO stories will keep coming. We think humans, or at least some humans, will believe even the most outlandish fantasy if it makes them feel good, or makes them feel frightened or outraged. If you doubt that the latter is true, just ponder the epochally sad fact that fantasies about a pedophile ring in a Washington D.C. pizza parlor have had an indelible effect on American politics. In short—people are amazingly gullible. Despite anything Harry Reid says, we don't think Lockheed has alien UFO bits in a top secret warehouse.
All that said, we also do not believe humans are alone in the cosmos. Scientifically, the assumption that we're alone makes little sense. Plus wouldn't that be utterly depressing, the idea that we're the smartest creatures in the universe? We're hanging off a cliff edge like Indiana Jones, groping for a stray tree root to save us as our sacks of gold threaten to pull us to our doom. If nuclear war and global heating don't send us hurtling into the abyss, resource depletion and social collapse will. The system we put in place to deliver prosperity is now eating the foundations that enabled it to stand in the first place. We can't be the smartest beings in the universe. We think aliens exist—but immeasurably far across the cosmos. And if we're wrong, and they're actually among us, all we can say is: reveal yourselves, and please help.
That bucket of water weighs thirty pounds but she handles it like a basket of muffins. Marry that girl, son. Household drudgery will be a breeze for her.
Ernest Haycox was a leading western and historical author. Above you see a cover for his 1954's short story collection Pioneer Loves. He died in 1950, with this appearing posthumously. We don't read many westerns, but by most accounts he was top level. We're featuring it today because the cover art by George Erickson fits a collection we put together last year. The group depicts rural women working hard while their men mostly stand by doing nothing. The Pulp Intl. girlfriends' reaction: “Typical!” Typical, eh? Who makes the seared duck with Pedro Ximénez sauce and mashed parsnips? That would be us. Who dispenses back rubs upon (daily) demand? Us again. Who handles panicked calls for humane evictions of spiders? That's right—us. Never let them diminish your worth, guys.
p.s. I also confess that it was me who let that silent-but-deadly slip during the arraignment. Jail food. Sorry.
Above, a cover for The Second Confession by Rex Stout, originally 1949 with this Bantam edition coming in 1952. It stars Stout's recurring character Nero Wolfe, a sedentary and overweight man of mysterious background who loves orchids and occasionally solves crimes. The book did quite well, but we haven't been enticed yet. So many franchise detectives, so little time.
We couldn't let her slide any longer.
We've had this sitting around for ten whole years. We were reluctant to post it because it's so rare. This tug of war went on forever, but today we've finally overcome our reservations because, after all, even though the scan will proliferate on the internet—and possibly even end up on Ebay like some of our other scans—we still have the physical item. So above you see iconic Japanese pinku actress Miki Sugimoto, star of such films as Zeroka no onna: Akai wappa, aka Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs and Sukeban gerira, aka Girl Boss Guerilla. A photographer named Takeo Sano was responsible for the image, and it was published as a four panel centerfold in the magazine Purei Comikku, or Play Comic, in 1973. Sugimoto has provided plenty of material for our website over the years. It's difficult to choose her greatest hits, but if forced, we'd say her best are here, here, and here. And maybe here too.
Lange novel has plenty of friction but not enough heat.
This photo cover was made for the 1968 thriller Zero Cool, written by John Lange, who was in reality a guy named Michael Crichton. Zero Cool is a fantastic title for a crime novel, but there's little else to suggest Crichton would become the zillion-selling author of Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, except possibly a flair for gimmicky ideas. In this case, several unlucky people are dispatched by a means unknown, their bodies torn as if they had been attacked by a madman wielding a scalpel. The truth of how these killings are accomplished is classic Crichton—i.e. high-concept and probably impossible. The deaths are ancillary—the main plot involves an American doctor in Spain coerced into performing an autopsy, and forced to insert an unknown object into the body. This act leads to dangerous repercussions, but there's no heft or menace to the narrative, which means we can't recommend the book. For Crichton and crime, you're better off with later, more accomplished efforts like The Great Train Robbery and Rising Sun. In Zero Cool he's just warming up.
They're meaner than the gators and deadlier than the snakes.
Above, a Japanese poster for Swamp Women, originally made in 1956, starring Mike Connors, Marie Windsor, Carole Matthews, and Beverly Garland. The Japanese title of this is 女囚大脱走, which means “female prisoner escape.” We consider that a bit of a plot spoiler, but the art is brilliant, and we suspect it enticed many a Japanese filmgoer. To their shock and horror, after they'd ponied up the yen they found out it was a Roger Corman b-movie and probably wanted to escape too.
Eddie G. never goes down without a fight.
Mid-century Belgian promo art strikes again. This is an epic poster. It was made for the crime drama Black Tuesday, which played in Belgium as Mardi ça saignera (French title) and Dinsdag zal er bloed stromen (Dutch title). Edward G. Robinson and Peter Graves star in the tale of two death row inmates who escape prison and go on the lam. Graves has hidden $200,000 from a bank robbery and Robinson plans to betray him and steal the dough. Unfortunately, Graves is critically shot during the escape and, even as he lies near death, refuses to say where the money is hidden.
This is a pretty nice flick. Virtually any movie with Robinson is worth a viewing. He played many types of characters in his career, but he's known for portraying tough guys, and this is classic Edward G., with all the snarls and sneers fans had come to expect from romps like Little Caesar and Key Largo. And why wouldn't he snarl? Unless a doctor he's taken hostage can save the day the cash he lusts for will never be found. But maybe Graves won't die. Maybe he's tougher than he seems—and smarter too. Robinson never wins in his gangster roles, so it's a question of how he'll lose, not if. But it's always fun watching him fight the bad fight. Black Tuesday premiered in the U.S. in late 1954 and reached Belgium today in 1955.
James M. Cain spins a tale about an unusual love and an unusual life.
Vintage Ace paperbacks are considered highly collectible for a few reasons, including the fact that the company popularized the double novel. But we like Ace because it often did well with art. This front for James M. Cain's The Moth is about as striking as cover illustration gets. It's uncredited, but we know exactly who it is. It's Sandro Symeoni. How do we know? Because the cover at this link is confirmed to be Symeoni, and there's no doubt the artist is the same as above. Not only is the style a match, but so is the time period. This came in 1958, and Ace used Symeoni's art several times between ’58 and ’60. That makes this paperback a super discovery, because Symeoni, a brilliant Italian artist who specialized in movie posters, rarely painted book covers. It's possible that, as with Arthur Miller's Focus (you clicked the link above, right?) the art was borrowed from one of Symeoni's posters, but if so we don't know which one. Doesn't matter. Sandro kills again.
Moving on to the novel, Cain, one of the towering figures of pulp literature, stretches himself here to tell the life story of a man through his first thirty-five years, spanning the Great Depression, Prohibition, and World War II; his various jobs, schemes, and hustles; and his ups, downs, ups, downs, ups, downs, ups... We're not putting an end on that sentence in order to avoid giving a hint whether he ultimately triumphs or fails. For a time Cain's protagonist works in the oil business. For years he's a hobo riding the rails. For part of his life he's a renowned soprano. But no matter where he goes or what he does, there's a past destined to come full circle to stare him in the face. This is Cain's longest book, but it's pretty involving. Its only flaw—if it can be called that—is that is doesn't surprise. You know which untrustworthy friend will come back to haunt him, and which unlikely love will reappear to offer a chance at redemption. Still, a good read. We recommend it.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1938—Chicora Meteor Lands
In the U.S., above Chicora, Pennsylvania, a meteor estimated to have weighed 450 metric tons explodes in the upper atmosphere and scatters fragments across the sky. Only four small pieces are ever discovered, but scientists estimate that the meteor, with an explosive power of about three kilotons of TNT, would have killed everyone for miles around if it had detonated in the city.
1973—Peter Dinsdale Commits First Arson
A fire at a house in Hull, England, kills a six year old boy and is believed to be an accident until it later is discovered to be a case of arson. It is the first of twenty-six deaths by fire caused over the next seven years by serial-arsonist Peter Dinsdale. Dinsdale is finally captured in 1981, pleads guilty to multiple manslaughter, and is detained indefinitely under Britain's Mental Health Act as a dangerous psychotic.
1944—G.I. Bill Goes into Effect
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Servicemen's Readjustment Act into law. Commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, or simply G.I. Bill, the grants toward college and vocational education, generous unemployment benefits, and low interest home and business loans the Bill provided to nearly ten million military veterans was one of the largest factors involved in building the vast American middle class of the 1950s and 1960s.
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