Vintage Pulp Apr 8 2023
SAVAGE DESIRE
When civilized men want anything, the uncivilized answer should always be no.

We knew we were in trouble about three minutes into White Savage, a movie that quickly revealed itself to be a bad hybrid of South Seas adventure and light romance. It features Dominican actress Maria Montez as the ruler of a Polynesian paradise called Temple Island that is coveted by two men. Good guy John Hall wants fishing rights to hunt sharks, while bad guy Thomas Gomez wants to steal the island's legendary treasure, which resides on the bottom of a sacred pool. Montez isn't keen on giving either man access, but she may not have a choice—she's liable to be betrayed by her brother, who's deeply in debt and willing to sell off their father's ancient land.

The movie features stalky, presumptuous male attitudes toward Montez, casts numerous bit players and extras in shoe polish, and features as an important character Charlie Chan portayer Sidney Toler in full inscrutable Asian mode, dispensing aphorisms for every occasion. In addition to these dubious aspects, almost the entire first half of the movie unspools to a highly annoying soundtrack of trilling flutes that are supposed to sound vaguely islandish. Don't get us wrong—we understand that the movie is meant to be largely lighthearted, but you know how to get future viewers to overlook flaws? Be a good movie. Excellence will buy a lot of forbearance. There's not much excellence in White Savage.

Are there any positives? Several. Montez is lovely. There's a tense, high stakes poker sequence that's a cut above average and shows that—similar to that old line from cowboy movies—white man not only speaks with forked tongue, but also plays with forked deck. Also positive, there's an outdoor island dance featuring some incredibly fit bodies of both sexes—we're talking co-ed six packs as far as the eye can see. And finally, because the movie is relentlessly dumb, if you're in the right frame of mind it can be funny. Otherwise, White Savage is just a throwaway wartime adventure set in the exotic Pacific islands, filmed in Los Angeles and environs, that takes viewers nowhere. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1943.
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Vintage Pulp Dec 22 2018
COLUMN LIKE WE SEE IT
Biggers isn't always better but he tried.


What's an agony column? Basically it's a newspaper feature in which readers writes messages to other readers. For example: “Regular at Main Street Cafe who takes her coffee every weekday morning just before 9:00. Would you be amenable to meeting a certain gentleman who has admired you from afar?” You get the idea. The “agony” in the terminology derives from the fact that people who write in generally are suffering from some sort of heartache or other.

The Agony Column is basically an epistolary mystery, in which a man writes letters to the crush he contacted through a London newspaper's agony column, and details his involvement in a puzzling murder case. It's a very esoteric set-up for a novel, and besides mystery there's a dose of cute romance. Nearly the entire book takes the form of the main character's letters, though some sections are conventionally written.

The nature of the novel requires more suspension of disbelief than usual, simply because nobody really writes letters with detailed, multi-character dialogue, but once you get over that hurdle it works pretty well. There are other hurdles. About London's Chinatown the main character writes, “Not only the heathen Chinee so peculiar shuffle through its dim-lit alleys, but the scum of the earth of many colors and of many climes. The Arab and the Hindu, the Malayan and the Jap, black men from the Congo and fair men from Scandinavia.”

Ouch. That brought the cuteness to a screeching halt. But readers should note that Biggers evolved, and would later create the Chinese American detective Charlie Chan partly as a counter to racist portrayals of Asians. The books were popular, but as the decades progressed people soured on them because Chan too is a racial stereotype. It's difficult for authors to write characters—especially outside their own ethnic group—that stand up over time as social mores change. But they keep trying, and should, in our opinion. What would fiction be like if they didn't?

The Agony Column has plenty of positives. Being set on the eve of World War I in a London gripped by tension over the looming global hostilities lends it atmosphere, and the mystery itself contains a few surprises we doubt most readers will foresee. It's also a short tale, which keeps the epistolary gimmick from wearing thin. We think it's worth a read. The Agony Column originally appeared in 1916, with this Avon edition, illegibly signed by the cover artist and unattributed inside, coming in 1943. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 25
1939—Batman Debuts
In Detective Comics #27, DC Comics publishes its second major superhero, Batman, who becomes one of the most popular comic book characters of all time, and then a popular camp television series starring Adam West, and lastly a multi-million dollar movie franchise starring Michael Keaton, then George Clooney, and finally Christian Bale.
1953—Crick and Watson Publish DNA Results
British scientists James D Watson and Francis Crick publish an article detailing their discovery of the existence and structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, in Nature magazine. Their findings answer one of the oldest and most fundamental questions of biology, that of how living things reproduce themselves.
April 24
1967—First Space Program Casualty Occurs
Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov dies in Soyuz 1 when, during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere after more than ten successful orbits, the capsule's main parachute fails to deploy properly, and the backup chute becomes entangled in the first. The capsule's descent is slowed, but it still hits the ground at about 90 mph, at which point it bursts into flames. Komarov is the first human to die during a space mission.
April 23
1986—Otto Preminger Dies
Austro–Hungarian film director Otto Preminger, who directed such eternal classics as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder, Carmen Jones, The Man with the Golden Arm, and Stalag 17, and for his efforts earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, dies in New York City, aged 80, from cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
1998—James Earl Ray Dies
The convicted assassin of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., petty criminal James Earl Ray, dies in prison of hepatitis aged 70, protesting his innocence as he had for decades. Members of the King family who supported Ray's fight to clear his name believed the U.S. Government had been involved in Dr. King's killing, but with Ray's death such questions became moot.
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