Don't worry. Lava's slow. I'm fast. I'll undress, we'll screw, then we'll run for our lives.
When we lived in Central America there were three volcanoes that loomed over our town. One's slope commenced just a few miles away and its peak dominated the sky to the south, but that one was extinct. The other two were not. One was dormant, but the other was active and smoked nonstop, with the prevailing wind carrying the ash away from town. This mountain occasionally shot out fountains of lava hundreds of feet high, which is a sight that will make you realize how insignificant you are the same way seeing a tornado or massive wave will. These mountains stood sentinel over many of our adventures, and were even involved in a few, including the time we visited a village on the extinct volcano and a mob of about thirty people beat a suspected thief to death.
Another time the top of that volcano started glowing red one night when we were hanging out at one of the local bars. We stood in the street with our drinks watching this spectacle, and pretty soon we could see flames around the mountain's peak. We thought we were seriously screwed. It was always understood that if that dead volcano ever came back to life there was nothing to do but kiss your ass goodbye. We decided to redouble our drinking. It turned out the flames were caused by a forest fire way up by the rim, but we gotta tell you, in those moments when we thought we might be toast, we got very efficiently hammered. It's a great memory, standing in that cobbled colonial lane, guzzling booze and waiting for the mountain to blow us all to hell.
Needless to say, for that reason the cover of 1952's The Angry Mountain by Hammond Innes sold us. The art is by Mitchell Hooks and it's close to his best work, we think. We didn't need to know anything about the book. We just wanted to see how the author used a volcano—specifically Vesuvius—in his tale, since they're a subject personal to us. The cover scene does occur in the narrative, though the couple involved aren't actually trying to have sex. Innes describes this lava lit encounter well. In fact we'd say it's described beyond the ability of even an artist as good as Hooks to capture, but that doesn't mean the book is top notch. Innes simply manages to make the most of his central gimmick.
The narrative deals with a man named Farrell who was tortured during World War II, losing his leg to a fascist doctor who amputated without anesthesia. A handful of years later Farrell is in Europe again, getting around on a prosthetic leg, when a series of events leads to him believing the doctor who tortured him is alive and living under a false identity. In trying to unravel this mystery he travels from Czechoslovakia, to Milan, to Naples, and finally to a villa at the foot of Vesuvius, along the way being pursued but having no idea why. He soon comes to understand that he's thought to be hiding or carrying something. But what? Why? And where? Where could he be carrying something valuable without his knowledge? Well, there's that hollow leg of his he let get out of his sight one night when he got blackout drunk...
That was a spoiler but since you probably don't have a volcano fetish you aren't going to seek out this novel, right? The main flaw with The Angry Mountain is that, ironically, there's not much heat. Farrell is an alcoholic and has PTSD, so he's not an easy protagonist to get behind. And his confusion about what's happening gives the first-person narrative the feel of going around in circles much of the time. And because this is a 1950s thriller, there's the mandatory love interest—or actually two—and that feels unrealistic when you're talking about a one-legged boozehound who has nightmares, cold sweats, and general stability problems. So the book, while evocative, is only partly successful. But those volcano scenes. We sure loved those.
Gestapo goes to extraordinary lengths to cancel a Czech.
This striking poster for Hangmen Also Die might make you think you're dealing with a death row film noir, but it's actually a war drama about the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. When a Czech assassin played by Brian Donlevy shoots the country's cruel German administrator Reinhard Heydrich and escapes into Prague's urban maze, the Nazis start executing people to force the population to turn over the shooter. As people die Donlevy struggles over whether to turn himself in. This was made in 1943 and qualifies as war propaganda, complete with flourishes such as discordant brass when Hitler's portrait appears onscreen, and a cheeseball closing song with a chorus of, “No surrender!” And to just bang the war drum even more, the movie premiered in, of all places, Prague, Oklahoma today in 1943, and the showing featured hanged effigies of Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini, while regional politicians made a point of attending. That must have been some night.
But while Hangmen Also Die may qualify as propaganda, it certainly isn't untrue in any major sense. The film's two architects, German director Fritz Lang and German writer Bertolt Brecht, both left their homeland to avoid the Nazis, and we can only imagine that their personal experiences made this project deeply important to them. But even people working from personal experience need help, and they get a major boost from co-star Walter Brennan. You'll sometimes read about him being a great character actor and this movie proves it. Watch him in this, then as the drunkard Eddie in To Have and Have Not, and you'll find him physically unrecognizable. Only his distinctive voice identifies him as the same person. Meanwhile it's Donlevy who's asked to personify the classic moral dilemma of sacrifice for the greater good, and he's mostly successful at portraying it as a heavy burden. While we wouldn't call Hangmen Also Die a great movie, there's no doubt it occupies its niche comfortably.
Cocktails, comedy, and crime make a mix that'll go right to your head.
Above, a fantastic Czech poster for the 1934 romantic comedy-murder mystery The Thin Man, which there was titled Detektiv Nick v New Yorku. This is a photo-illustration, rather than the paintings we love, but it's still, in our book, as good as promo art gets. As far as the film goes, like Casablanca or Chinatown, there's no way to overrate it. Some of the humor is so modern that you'll have trouble believing it was made almost a century ago and wasn't cribbed from an episode of Friends or Seinfeld. Just goes to show that in the infinity of time we don't change as quickly as we think.
We adore the boozing party animals at the center of this tour de force—Nick and Nora Charles, played by William Powell and Myrna Loy—whose drunken interactions could easily be the inspiration for Jim and Jules of the hilarious television show Brockmire. Credit the director, actors, editors, and everyone else for this masterpiece, but give the biggest nod to Dashiell Hammett, who wrote the excellent source novel. There's no release date for Detektiv Nick v New Yorku in Czechoslovakia, but figure spring or early summer of 1935.
The future's so bleak he has to wear shades.
Above, a poster for the game changing science fiction adventure The Terminator painted for the Czech (then Czechoslovakian) market by Milan Pecak. The fading effect at the bottom of the art is the way Pecak painted it, rather than the result of a bad scan or photo. This movie may look a bit clunky to modern viewers, but so will Avengers: Infinity War in twenty years. Along with stunners like Alien, Blade Runner, and others, The Terminator changed the idea of what cinematic science fiction could be. It premiered in the U.S. in 1984 and eventually arrived in Czechoslovakia as Terminátor today in 1990.
If she tries to pressure you into getting a haircut there's an ulterior motive.
In 1933 Austrian born actress Hedy Lamarr, née Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler starred in the Czech-Austrian silent film Ecstase, aka Ecstasy, a landmark production notable for its nude scenes. Lamarr was unhappy with the result, but it made her enormously famous and helped pave her way to Hollywood, where she made numerous films, including the cheesy but highly enjoyable swords and sandals epic Samson & Delilah, from which the above image comes. In the Biblical legend, Delilah cuts off Samson's magic hair to weaken him. In real life Lamarr weakened plenty of male fans and didn't have to do anything but appear on a movie screen. This photo shows her circa 1949.
He'll learn any tune you want him to.
The above poster, with its sinister art, was made for the Japanese run of a 1970 French movie titled L'aveu, aka The Confession. It was directed by Costa-Gavras, who often delves into political themes, and here Yves Montand stars as a Czech communist party official named Anton who is one day followed, arrested without warrant, and thrown in jail without charge or access to legal counsel. He thinks it's a mistake but soon realizes party officials suspect him of treason and plan to extract a confession through whatever means are required. He's subjected to isolation, sleep deprivation, and rough treatment, all presented here unequivocally as torture. And indeed when the movie was made there was no doubt what it was. But these days, in the U.S., tens of millions of people and many government officials say it isn't torture—or worse, say it is torture and should be used more. For that reason the film, in the fullness of time, now offers a double lesson—its intended one about a Soviet empire that collapsed, and an unintended one about an American empire making the same mistakes. In L'aveu the state tries to forcibly program Anton; in the U.S. millions have been programmed to accept torture simply because the state has told them to. For us, it was all pretty hard to watch, but it's a damned good movie. It premiered in Japan today in 1971.
Facts, speculation, and dubious assumptions.
This Inside Story from November 1963 features cover star Christine Keeler and the people in her life, while the left of the page has insets with Mamie Van Doren and Anthony Quinn. We’ve covered Keeler. Hers was one of the most flogged scandals of the 1960s, and Inside Story editors are well aware of that, which is why they claim to have new information. But it’s nothing new—just rehash on Keeler, a background on Czech call girl Maria Stella Novotny, who was well known by this time as one of Keeler’s colleagues, and standard red scare stuff about motel rooms set up with microphones and two-way mirrors. We will get back to Novotny, however—her tale offers some interesting twists and turns.
Inside Story shares stories about Mamie Van Doren, Jackie Gleason, Peter O’Toole, Ava Gardner and a nervous tailor who measured her for a suit, and how perfume makes men go wild. Editors also decry the injustice of a Harlem restaurant refusing to serve a white woman—this, mind you, during an era when literally hundreds of thousands of U.S. enclaves, from restaurants to schools to country clubs to sectors of the military, were whites-only. False equivalence, thy name is Inside Story. But interestingly, a subsequent piece about the world’s sexiest nightclubs tells readers chic Harlem bars are frequented by white Hollywood stars. And so it goes…
Raquel, rifles and redesigned money.
Above, a fantastic poster for the 1969 western 100 Rifles with Raquel Welch superimposed over a stylized U.S. currency background. It was made for the film’s 1971 stint in what was then Czechoslovakia. Amazingly, we saw it listed on a foreign poster specialty site for $275.00, and then saw the exact same piece on a big retail site for $13.99. The lesson there is to shop wisely. See our recent write-up on 100 Rifles here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1921—Sacco & Vanzetti Convicted
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Dedham, Massachusetts of killing their shoe company's paymaster. Even at the time there are serious questions about their guilt, and whether they are being railroaded because of their Italian ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs.
1933—Eugenics Becomes Official German Policy
Adolf Hitler signs the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and Germany begins sterilizing those they believe carry hereditary illnesses, and those they consider impure. By the end of WWII more than 400,000 are sterilized, including criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, Jews, and people of mixed German-African heritage.
1955—Ruth Ellis Executed
Former model Ruth Ellis is hanged at Holloway Prison in London for the murder of her lover, British race car driver David Blakely. She is the last woman executed in the United Kingdom.
1966—Richard Speck Rampage
breaks into a Chicago townhouse where he systematically rapes and kills eight student nurses. The only survivor hides under a bed the entire night.
1971—Corona Sent to Prison
Mexican-born serial killer Juan Vallejo Corona is convicted of the murders of 25 itinerant laborers. He had stabbed each of them, chopped a cross in the backs of their heads with a machete, and buried them in shallow graves in fruit orchards in Sutter County, California. At the time the crimes were the worst mass murders in U.S. history.
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