Anything could happen there and it usually did.
We're drawn to books about places we know, so Camilo José Cela's The Hive was a natural. Originally published in 1950 and titled La colmena, the tale is largely set in a Madrid bar known as Doña Rosa's Café. There are also scenes set in apartments, streets, and other cafés, as Cela explores the lives of more than three-hundred characters in brief sketches, slowly weaving these warp and weft strands into a tapestry that ultimately represents a single character—Madrid circa 1943. Maybe that doesn't sound thrilling, but we liked it. Cela was economical yet vivid, like here, at closing time for the café:
Within half an hour the café will be empty. It will be like a man who has suddenly lost his memory.
And here, about a boy who survives by singing on the street:
He is too young in years for cynicism—or resignation—to have slashed its mark across his face, and therefore it has a beautiful, candid stupidity, the expression of one who understands nothing of anything that happens. For [him] everything that happens is a miracle: he was born by a miracle, he eats by a miracle, has lived by a miracle, and has the strength to sing by pure miracle.
Cela was a fascist, a supporter of Francisco Franco's dictatorship. His beliefs came with contradictions, for example he worked as a censor for the government, was himself banned so that The Hive had to be published first in Argentina, yet remained loyal to the regime that had financially and reputationally harmed him. He even became an informer. In Cela's writing there's humor, but also coldness, a sense of observing small and pathetic people. For someone born into material comfort in a Spain where many families retain unearned wealth for hundreds of years, his subtle judgements came across to us as cruel, the product of a person who looked closely at everyone but himself. The book isn't overtly political, though, which makes it easier to focus on the skill that eventually won him a Nobel Prize.
The edition you see here is from Ace Books in 1959 with an uncredited cover. We went back and forth on this artist. We want to say it's Sandro Symeoni, but we don't have enough cred to make that call definitively. It looks like some of the items he painted, but publishing companies sometimes sought art of similar styles, or directed illustrators to produce something similar to what another artist had provided. During the late 1950s and early ’60s Ace Books had many covers in this general style. That said, compare the close-ups below. The first is from the above cover, and the rest are from confirmed Symeonis. If The Hive wasn't painted by the same person, then whoever did paint it went beyond merely working in a similar style—he was a thief.
Excuse me madam, would you like to hear an American's opinions about everything?
John Steinbeck's Un americano en Nueva York y en Paris was published in 1957 by Ediciones Mariel, which was based in Buenos Aires. First published in 1956 in France as Un Américain à New York et à Paris, this is a collection of articles that Steinbeck wrote for Le Figaro when he was living in Paris. Because they originally appeared in French for a French publication many went unpublished in English for decades. In fact we can't be sure all the essays are available in English even today, though one would like to assume so. In any case, that's why this book caught our eye—because it surprised us that the entire collection of essays was available in Argentina, but not the U.S., almost immediately after they appeared in France.
Steinbeck was a serious writer, and thus was considered a serious persona, but the Le Figaro essays gave him a chance to show readers his wit and humor. Some of his observations read so contemporarily they could be from a year ago, particularly his musings over a restaurant owner who received a Michelin star, then spent every waking moment plotting, hoping, suffering to get another. He hopes to have his chance when the Michelin critic schedules another visit. The fact that the chef's official taster is Steinbeck's cat Apollo just adds more absurdity to the tale, as the genius who wrote Of Mice and Men veers into the silliness of cats and menus.
The parts of Un americano en Nueva York y en Paris not about France consist of articles concerning New York, culture, and politics. One of those latter entries, from 1954, is about Joseph McCarthy, who was in full witch hunt mode at the time. Much of the literati were loudly opposed to the proto-fascist senator, but Steinbeck took a different tack, writing that democracies occasionally need a challenge from demagogues in order to evolve, because such dark episodes remind people what democratic ideals really are—i.e. everyone gets to participate, not just self-appointed gatekeepers and purity-testers afraid of change or losing power. The tent of democracy always gets bigger, not smaller. It can't do the latter and qualify as a democracy.
The cover art on this was painted by J.C. Cotignola, whose work appeared on various Argentine and Brazilian publications, but who isn't well known today. Bang up job though. To us the title of the collection somewhat echoes George Orwell's acclaimed Down and Out in Paris and London, another book about knocking around in a couple of big cities. The difference is Orwell was so poor he almost starved to death—he literally ate moldy bread out of garbage cans to survive. Steinbeck was the toast of Paris when he was there. Given a choice, we'd skip the mold and go straight to the toast. Preferably with a layer of rillette de porc on top. Even Apollo the cat would approve of that.
There are worse fates than being Shanghaied by Hayworth.
This beautiful poster was made for Argentina to promote the film noir The Lady from Shanghai, which starred Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. There's no official Argentine premiere date, but since the movie reached Mexico in April 1948 and Uruguay in July 1948, it's a reasonable bet that it hit Argentina sometime during the summer of that year. Read a bit about the film here.
Rita Hayworth does tall, dark, and treacherous.
We've done a lot on Gilda, but it's one of our favorite movies of the 1940s, and we'd be remiss if we didn't show you this beautiful promo image, basically the best of the lot from this flick. Gilda had everything—an exotic Argentine location (shot on a backlot), a story of danger (done many times before), and a tough, cynical leading man (nothing new for the time period). So then, what made Gilda great, if it was so derivative? Two things—Hayworth, playing a jaded and suspicious femme fatale; and a good script that skirted that bounds of what was allowable in terms of expressing feminine sexual liberation. Co-star Glenn Ford had perfect chemistry with Hayworth, too, which counts for something, but any man would have that. No, it's Rita's show. And though she didn't live forever, Gilda will. Or at least, it'll live as long as humans watch anything that can be classified as cinema.
Sometimes the end of the line can be a new beginning.
Check out this beautiful Mexican promo poster for the melodrama El tren expreso. It can be difficult sometimes to determine provenance for Spanish language items, but we know this piece is Mexican because it says Filmex, S.A. at upper left, telling us it was printed for Mexico's Cinematográfica Filmex. But the movie was originally shot in Europe with mainly Spanish participation, including from director León Klimovsky, who was Argentinian but after 1950 emigrated to and worked mostly in Spain.
We watched the movie and it deals with a burned out concert pianist who takes a sabbatical and while on a train journey stops an unhappy widow from leaping to her death. These two broken souls travel together and fall in love, but matters of the heart are never simple in cinema. If you want to see the movie you can watch it at this link, but keep in mind we described it as a melodrama advisedly. Also you'll need to understand Spanish.
Anyway we're mainly interested in the poster, which is amazing, but uncredited. We hit the internet for info and drew blanks for days. We eventually learned it's part of a collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, but it was listed as by an unknown artist there too. So that settles it, pretty much, if professional art curators have no information. The world may never know who painted this masterpiece. El tren expreso premiered in Spain today in 1955.
When you can move like Astaire, nobody is out of your league.
Only in the movies could a 150 pound broomstick like Fred Astaire score a babe like Rita Hayworth. Or maybe we're not giving him enough credit. He was an amazing dancer, and we know that counts for a lot. Also, Hayworth made it with Sinatra and he was tiny too. So forget what we said. She liked them small. Anyway, the image above is from the rear of a copy of the Portuguese newspaper O Século Ilustrado, and it's a promo for the musical romance You Were Never Lovelier. We've watched it a couple of times, and it's a nice flick set in Buenos Aires telling the story of a very picky Hayworth refusing to marry any of the many handsome and rich men around her. When she meets Astaire she thinks he's a pest—until she sees him glide around the room. We recommend the movie. It's as fun as this photo makes it look. To add to the fun even more, we have a promo image from the film below, and by the way, let's never forget that Hayworth was a professional level dancer too. Check here for proof.
Murder comes a-creeping.
A little something from Argentina today, a poster for Abismos, which was originally released in the U.S. in 1947 as Ivy. Most sources list the movie as a film noir, but it's also an Edwardian costume drama, which is a detail you'll want to know going in. Basically, what you get here is a woman in a love triangle whose husband dies under suspicious circumstances, prompting a police investigation of her lover. Joan Fontaine plays the eponymous lead character and does a bang-up job, which is no surprise for such an acclaimed performer. Her Ivy is nervous, elusive, and frustratingly indecisive—or is she? Strong noir elements accumulate as the movie progresses and the ending is a classic exclamation point. Well worth the time spent.
Revenge is never as uncomplicated it sounds.
A post on Christmas? Don't we ever quit? Well, we wrote some in advance and are allowing our Pulpbot to do the posting. We're actually on a tropical island with the Pulp Intl. girlfriends and have been for several days. But if we were watching the 1945 film noir Cornered it would not be a terrible misuse of time by any means. The movie deals with a war vet seeking revenge for the death of his wife, a member of the French resistance who was killed by French collaborators. While stalking them from Europe to South America he finds himself involved in a hunt for an entire cabal of traitors still up to their scheming ways. Motivations are murky all around, but the hero is hellbent on revenge—even if it upsets the delicate plans of a group of Nazi hunters. Reasonably solid film noir, with reasonably solid Dick Powell in the lead. Cornered premiered in the U.S. today in 1945.
This is going to be the most awesome revenge ever.
What the fuck have I gotten myself into?
She doesn't meet the Vatican dress code but she does meet the man of her dreams.
We have two great posters to share today for Piero Costa's La ragazza di piazza San Pietro, aka The Girl of San Pietro Square, starring famed director Vittorio De Sica along with Walter Chiari, Susana Canales, and Mary Martin in the tale of a widower and his three children. The setting is in and around St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, where the main characters are souvenir sellers, and a chance meeting results in romance. The movie is widely available, including on YouTube, but our primary interest is in the art. It has a nice femme fatale look to it. The first poster is signed Crane, and the second, using the same elements, is unsigned but obviously is by the same person. Both are top efforts. We'll dig for more on this Crane character and see what we can find. La ragazza di piazza San Pietro premiered in Italy today in 1958.
Sarli does sexploitation with a South American flair.
Isabel Sarli was a gigantic sex symbol in her home country of Argentina, and throughout Latin America as well, renowned for her boobs and smoldering ferocity. Furia infernal showcases both to great effect. She plays a dancer coveted by a rich pervert, who promptly kills her husband and kidnaps her to some snowswept mountainous retreat where sheep bleat continuously and everyone wears chaps and stubble. This all happens pretty quickly—within the first eight minutes of running time. After all, why delay when what everyone wants to see is how Sarli will use wits and tits to escape imprisonment? Both come in handy, and eventually Sarli's oily tormentor, his rugged but stupid sons, assorted henchmen and a sheep or two are deservedly dispatched. Sarli, as was her trademark, squeezes a few masturbatory nude frolics into all this melodrama, including one in a bath and another in a meadow. She was a throwback star. In an era when actresses were getting ever thinner she looked as if she could have used Marilyn Monroe as a toothpick. Her director and husband Armando Bo thought she looked best in nature, and he was right—she was as lush and dark as an old growth forest. We won't say Furia infernal is good, but Sarli certainly is. The movie premiered in Argentina today in 1973.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
NBC radio broadcasts the cop drama Dragnet for the first time. It was created by, produced by, and starred Jack Webb as Joe Friday. The show would later go on to become a successful television program, also starring Webb.
1973—Lake Dies Destitute
Veronica Lake, beautiful blonde icon of 1940s Hollywood and one of film noir's most beloved fatales
, dies in Burlington, Vermont of hepatitis and renal failure due to long term alcoholism. After Hollywood, she had drifted between cheap hotels in Brooklyn and New York City and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. A New York Post
article briefly revived interest in her, but at the time of her death she was broke and forgotten.
1962—William Faulkner Dies
American author William Faulkner, who wrote acclaimed novels such as Intruder in the Dust and The Sound and the Fury, dies of a heart attack in Wright's Sanitorium in Byhalia, Mississippi.
1942—Spy Novelist Graduates from Spy School
Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, graduates from Camp X, a training school for spies located in Canada. The character of Bond has been said to have been based upon Camp X's Sir William Stephenson and what Fleming learned from him, though there are several other men who are also said
to be the basis for Bond.
1989—Oliver North Avoids Prison
Colonel Oliver North, an aide to U.S. president Ronald Reagan, avoids jail during the sentencing phase of the Iran-Contra trials. North had been found guilty of falsifying and destroying documents, and obstructing Congress during their investigation of the massive drugs/arms/cash racket orchestrated by high-ranking members of the Reagan government.
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