*gasp* That phone is just everything! Where did you find it in that color? I'm dying of jealousy right now.
Murder takes no holiday and neither does artistic talent, as proven by this beautiful Robert McGinnis cover of a man losing his shit over the latest pink phone from Ma Bell. Okay, that isn't what's happening, but it looks that way, right? Actually the male figure is way over his head in a smuggling plot and the female figure—a femme fatale named Vivienne Larousse—is keeping him from losing his nerve. The book is set on the fictional Caribbean Island of St. Albans, a British enclave that seems to be modeled after the Caymans. Brett Halliday's franchise sleuth Michael Shayne is thrown into the mix to solve a murder that took place in the U.S., and follows the clues to the tropics. Of the approximately seventy Shayne novels, this one—number thirty-five or so—is merely adequate. Actually, all the ones we've read have been merely adequate. But we'll keep at it. McGinnis, on the other hand, is masterful. Of all the moments in an action oriented book to illustrate he chose an unlikely one, but the result is just everything. His alternate cover, below, is also great.
Michael Shayne stabs Phillip Marlowe in the back.
Above you see a promo poster for the detective yarn The Time To Kill, a movie that premiered in the U.S. today in 1943 and has a mildly convoluted provenance that will be interesting to pulp fans. Mystery authors Brett Halliday and Raymond Chandler were both popular writers, but Twentieth Century Fox had already made six movies based on Halliday's novels. So they bought Chandler's The High Window and changed the main character from Phillip Marlowe to Halliday's franchise detective Michael Shayne. We don't know if Chandler and Halliday had any sort of rivalry to that point, but we wouldn't be surprised if one started.
Fox had made the previous Shayne flicks in just two years, and they're light in tone, which is one reason we think websites that label The Time To Kill a film noir are stretching. The lead character is not a driven loner, the general sense of corruption is nowhere to be found, and most of the usual noir iconography, such as rain or water, neon, newspapers, sidewalks, etc., is absent. No flashbacks. No voiceover. Nothing. Co-star Doris Merrick is a femme fatale perhaps, but virtually any woman in a crime thriller can fit that cubbyhole. Then surprise—four fifths of the way through its running time the movie shifts gears—Shayne walks into a nighttime murder scene that's draped with shadows and ill portent, but even this is played for laughs when he pratfalls down a staircase. And the ultimate fate of the villain is basically a bad barroom joke.
Director Herbert Leeds had worked on a variety of low budget westerns, comedies, and serials, and was a technician, not a stylist. His spliced in noir sequence is a nice nod to an emerging trend, but we don't think it pushes what is mainly a goofball detective film into noir territory. In general, his were a safe pair of hands tasked with churning out movies at high speed. The Time To Kill is a typically perfunctory Leeds effort—one hour and one minute long, meant to be consumed like penny candy. So we don't think it's a film noir, but hey—we just run a silly website. What do we know? And does it even matter? The Time To Kill is a decent enough distraction, however you categorize it.
For better or worse, in sickness and health, women in pulp don’t have a heck of a lot of choice about it.
Pulp is a place where the men are decisive and the women are as light as feathers. We’ve gotten together a collection of paperback covers featuring women being spirited away to places unknown, usually unconscious, by men and things that are less than men. You have art from Harry Schaare, Saul Levine, Harry Barton, Alain Gourdon, aka Aslan, and others.
They got on like a hayloft afire—until the barn burned down.
In pulp, people are careless with cigarettes, as we’ve pointed out before, and above is another example. Originally published in 1937 as Too Smart for Love, Rainbow Books came out with this digest paperback in 1951. The set-up here is simple—bad girl Janet Stang pursues men for their money. Author Kathryn Culver was in reality the prolific Davis Dresser, who also wrote as Brett Halliday, Don Davis, Asa Baker, Matthew Blood, Don Davis, Hal Debrett, et.al. The art here is by Howell Dodd and it’s top quality work, in our opinion. Dodd had a thing about redheads and made them a staple of his work, so we’re going to gather up a collection of these women and show you more later.
Sexiness is a warm gun (on a book cover anyway).
This cover of Peter O’Donnell’s Sabre Tooth, part of his popular Modesty Blaise series, shows Italian actress Monica Vitti as the title character, and it got us thinking about all the paperback covers that feature photos of women with guns. Of course, we realize that, as far as the gun-crazed U.S. is concerned, thinking of armed people as enticing or artistic may seem a little tone deaf, but we're talking about book covers, that's all. So we decided to put together a collection. We should mention that the Blaise series is worth reading if you’re looking for something along the lines of light thrills. It’s breezy and sexy as only 1960s spy literature can be, and Blaise herself is an interesting character, born in Greece, raised by a Hungarian scholar, trained in martial arts, and proficient in piracy, theft, and all around sneakiness. In Sabre Tooth she finds herself trying to thwart an invasion of Kuwait by an Afghan warlord. Below we have a dozen more photo covers featuring heat-packing women. As always with these collections, thanks to the original uploaders, most from Flickr, but particularly Muller-Fokker and Existential Ennui.
Pull the blinds and turn out the lights.
We’ve explored several cover motifs in pulp art, and another we’ve grown to appreciate is the use of venetian blind shadows or silhouettes. Always a dramatic addition to a cover, we could probably compile fifty of these, at least, but here are twenty examples. The artists—Olivier Brabbins, Emilio Freix, Robert Maguire, James Hodges, and others—use them to greater and lesser degrees, and opt for both literal and stylized renderings. For instance, the above cover from Maguire shows vertical shadows, but the sense of venetian blinds remains. As always, thanks to all the original uploaders, particularly Pulpnivora for the very nice front to La llamada de la muerte.
Vintage literature reminds us that murder, deceit, betrayal, lust and greed know no boundaries.
There’s a saying that the world is a book and those who don’t travel read only one page. But on the other hand, if you stay home the danger and mayhem at least happen in your own language. Which is the better course? Pulp authors seem to think it’s the latter. Above and below are twenty-one vintage bookcovers for fiction set in various cities around the globe. The writing spans genres such as romance, sleaze, horror, and espionage, and the art is by Mitchell Hooks, Barye Phillips, Robert McGinnis, et. al. Thanks to all the original uploaders.
Oh darling, I’m so proud of you. It’s tough to get any kind of work right now.
In a down job market you take what you can get, especially if it makes your woman this happy. This cool cover for Brett Halliday’s Murder Is My Business was painted by William George Jacobson for Dell Publishing in 1949. Halliday was reprinted a bunch, so there are multiple covers for this book. The one just below is the original hardback from 1945, and after that, in order, are the 1945 paperback by Gerald Gregg, a photorealistic 1958 cover, a 1963 Robert McGinnis cover, and lastly, the recent Hard Case Crime version with Robert McGinnis cover art once again. There are others, as well, but we couldn’t track them all down.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1940—Trotsky Iced in Mexico
In Mexico City exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded with an ice axe
(not an ice pick) by Soviet agent Ramon Mercader. Trotsky dies the next day.
1968—Prague Spring Ends
200,000 Warsaw Pact troops backed by 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to end the Prague Spring political liberalization movement.
1986—Sherrill Goes Postal
In Edmond, Oklahoma, United States postal employee Patrick Sherrill shoots and kills fourteen of his co-workers and then commits suicide.
1953—Mohammed Mossadegh Overthrown in Iran
At the instigation of the CIA, Prime Minster of Iran Mohammed Mossadegh is overthrown and the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is installed as leader of the country.
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.
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