That sound you hear is a great author spinning in his grave.
Guy de Maupassant? Really? We had no idea the master of the short story form and leader of the Naturalist school also wrote smut. Shows what we know. When we looked around for Folli piaceri delle porno prigioniere we learned it was originally made in West Germany in 1980 as Gefangene Frauen, but known in English as Caged Women. And instead of the highbrow rumination we expected from a movie based on de Maupassant, what we got was director Edwin C. Dietrich pushing the far bounds of sexploitation in ways that are crude, stupid, and unrepentant. Perhaps as compensation or apology, he also offers up more nudity per screen minute than a Jesús Franco film—and that's saying something.
Karine Gambier and Brigitte Lahaie headline a cast of bare blonde women and just-as-bare hairy eurostuds, as plotwise, a tinpot dictator worried about a U.N. sex trafficking investigation into his country's brothels hides his trafficked European prosties in a godforsaken island prison. You get every trope of women in prison flicks, but stretched to the max. There are showers, medical exams, naked whippings, naked manual labor, naked skeet shooting, naked arena wrestling, a naked prison break (but with comfortable shoes), and more. Notice how that went from standard sexploitation fare to waaay out there? Is it satire? Edwin Dietrich doubtless would have claimed it was. But merely turning the volume up to eleven is the dumbest kind of satire.
And as far as Guy de Maupassant goes, it's more like Guy de wishful thinking. We found no evidence the acclaimed author influenced this production in any way, regardless of what its writer (also Edwin Dietrich) said. It wasn't the only time Dietrich claimed he was inspired by classic literature. No surprise—when you make something like forty of these flicks you intellectualize them any way you can. De Maupassant's influence, we suspect, was merely to lend a veneer of credibility to the promo poster. If you watch Folli piaceri delle porno prigioniere, don't be a pretender like Dietrich. Just embrace your inner horndog and admit you're watching it for the skin.
Ready, aim, when the concession manager bends over we all nail him in the ass.
Today in 1955 the soon-to-be global tourist attraction Disneyland debuted to 28,000 invited guests, media, and assorted celebrities on hand to lend a bit of glitz to the kitsch. Stars who were present included Eddie Fisher, who hosted the festivities, Debbie Reynolds, Danny Thomas, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Art Linkletter, Irene Dunne, Jeff Chandler, Eve Arden, Marilyn Maxwell, George Gobel, Margaret Whiting, Gale Storm, Charlton Heston, and many more. The above photo shows, left to right, Adelle August, Steve Rowland, and Kathleen Case enjoying the air rifle attraction, and Case in particular must have been a hell of a shot, firing away from the hard-to-master seated position. No word on whether any of the trio won a prize, but we doubt it. On the other hand, considering the congestion and the mess 28,000 people can make maybe the prize was being allowed to the front of every line and having a celebrity potty watched over by a furry mascot wielding a mop and bucket. We aren't sure how long Case and Co. hung around—it was 101 degrees Fahrenheit that day and the water fountains weren't functioning—but it looks like they went above and beyond the call of publicity. If we had to guess, though, we'd say they left immediately after Case felt the monkey's warm anus on her bare shoulder.
She's not quite as innocent as she looks.
This Japanese poster was made for Annie Belle's 1976 erotic romp La fine dell'innocenza, and it makes us wonder: Do erotic stars even exist anymore? We don't mean porn stars. We mean stars of erotic films. Have the reactionaries made them extinct, even on late night cable? Well, if so that's terribly sad, because if one believes cinematic sex and nudity are automatically exploitative (or worse, that all nudity in media derives from coercion), in our opinion that person has led a tragic or sheltered life. Sometimes such movies are exploitative, of course, but oftentimes they're life affirming and fun. Just like regular films, there's a range. La fine dell'innocenza, which was also titled simply Annie, falls somewhere in the middle. It has its exploitative elements, but ultimately is about Belle being far too rare and free a bird to be caged by small-minded men. Once upon a time, but not long ago, women struggled and protested and advocated in order to be free birds sexually, to express their sexuality in any way they saw fit after centuries of repression. La fine dell'innocenza is an artifact of that time period. We talked about it a few years ago, and you can read about it at this link.
Land ho! Shiver me timbers! Spring break ahoy! Pieces of eighteen year olds!
We've shown you many George Gross covers, all brilliant. This one is a little different for him. Morgan the Pirate was published by Dell in 1961 as a tie-in for the Italian adventure film Morgan il pirata, starring Steve Reeves, that indispensable icon of the sword and sandal era of the ’50s and ’60s. We haven't seen the movie, but this illustration has tempted us to queue it up. More than that, it makes us want to go raise hell somewhere. Actually, we had this one ready to go last year around this time when we had a trip planned, but we cancelled the travel and warehoused the image, figuring, okay, spring 2021. But the gag still doesn't really work, because there aren't any spring breaks (for careful people). But we don't want to sit on the cover another year, so here it is. Come on vaccinators, get to innoculating, so we can get to vacationating. Wooo! Shots! Shots! Shots!
I said I need to stretch my legs. I didn't say you need to stand there and stare at them while I do it.
The cover blurb makes James McKimmey's The Long Ride sound as if the trip taken involves a total of one woman and three men. Actually there are seven travelers, headed cross country to San Fransisco, three of whom are involved in a bank robbery and murder in different ways. Obviously, there's the robber. There's also the person whole stole the loot from the robber. And there's—well, we won't say, because this is a good tale that deserves to surprise you. It reminded us tangentially of John D. MacDonald's The Damned, though the ensemble here is much smaller. However, the crucible aspect is similar. In The Damned everyone is stuck at a closed river crossing, whereas here everyone spends much of their time in a station wagon (with a motel or two mixed in). We read a review of this that said the three main characters ending up in the same car defied credulity. That person must have skimmed the book. It makes perfect sense that they're together, as does every other aspect of the plotting. The only flaw for us was an over-written lonely heart librarian, but otherwise we thought The Long Ride was a thrill ride, not long at all, if anything too short. This Dell paperback is from 1961 with leggy art from Bob Abbett.
One unlucky spin of the wheel always leads to another.
Above is a cover for James M. Fox's, née Johannes Knipscheer's, thriller The Wheel is Fixed, painted by Willard Downs for Dell Publications in 1951. A while back we put together an entire collection of covers featuring roulette wheels and this one was part of the group. But we hadn't read the book, so a few days ago we took care of that. This is the tale of a down-on-his-luck pianist hired to seduce a music loving femme fatale away from from a gangster's violinist son. It starts out interestingly but loses momentum during the middle stretches. We kept reading it anyway because it has a framing device and we were curious how the narrator and his companion came to be in the sorry state they're in when he begins recounting the tale. Like waiting for a roulette wheel to stop, you'll urge the narrative to hurry. It doesn't, but if you're patient there's a payoff, by which we mean a violent climax and a satisfying denouement. Overall it wasn't bad, but would we take Fox for another spin? Probably not.
This is where being deputy in a one-horse town really sucks.
Elmore's Leonard's second novel The Law at Randado was published in 1954, and it debuted in paperback as this Dell edition with evocative George Gross cover art. Leonard wrote scores of fascinating characters during his long career. The villain here is yet another. Arizona cattleman Phil Sundeen inherited his wealth but pretends he earned it. Though he doesn't truly have a head for business the sheer size of his fortune prevents his numerous failures from ruining him. He commits transgressions that range from the rude to the unethical to the outright illegal. Men work for him knowing they'll eventually be humiliated or cheated, but they tell themselves that maybe there's a way to benefit from the relationship before it implodes.
When Sundeen's stupidity and vanity catalyze a deadly mob, deputy sheriff Kirby Frye wants to hold him to account. Though Sundeen encouraged the chaos, rather than physically taking part, there's no doubt he's responsible for the deaths. But most of the people in the town of Randado defend Sundeen. They all harbor fantasies that by staying on his good side fortune will one day smile upon them. His inner circle protect him, but they know he's wrong. They've gained considerable prestige clinging to him, but they try to make him face the reality of his situation anyway, only to learn that their enablement of him—and the enablement of all the sycophants who came before them—have warped Sundeen's sense of reality:
Sundeen looked up now, faintly grinning. “R.D., you old son of a bitch, you telling me [I'm] wrong?
“I'm facing the facts!”
“Facts don't mean a thing.”
“They do when you're faced with them!”
“I don't see 'em facing me. George, you see any facts facing [me]?”
And presented with this, Sundeen's enablers toss what remains of their integrity into a ditch. In public they claim his obvious crimes are not crimes at all, but they know they're lying, and in private they realize he will only get worse. So does Deputy Frye, which is one reason he's determined to apply the law to Sundeen, same as anyone else. His legal authority comes straight from the county seat in Tucson, but that authority means little to a group willing to see their meal ticket as oppressed by an illegitimate government. Frye has no inkling of where his ideals of evenhanded justice will lead, or what they will cost.
Elmore Leonard was a clever conceptualist—one of the best. The Law at Randado is at its core a tale of order versus chaos, central government over local law, and of whether people believe in the oft-cited principles of what America claims to be. When push comes to shove, those who support Sundeen want those principles binned. Even Frye's girlfriend wants Sundeen to be given a pass, and not just because her father is one of Sundeen's clan. She believes what other townspeople believe: that politicians in Tucson have no right to tell people in Randado what to do. Frye's stubborn insistence on law and order is at first an irritant to Sundeen, then an affront, then a legitimate threat that must be destroyed.
One magical aspect of fiction is that, in skilled hands, what seems murky in real life can be made utterly clear on the written page. Elmore Leonard died nearly a decade ago, so The Law at Randado isn't about events of recent years, but it's relevant because it's about the willingness of some to view the enforcement of the law as transactional. To such people the law is sacrosanct, but only as long as it's applied to others. Leonard explores a foundational civic paradox—that certain groups are entitled to receive protection from the law without accountability to it, while other groups are accountable to the law without being entitled to receive protection from it. The Law at Randado explores that idea and does it exceedingly well.
Hepburn has to overcome blindness, bad guys, and the script.
Above are three beautiful posters for the suspense film Gli occhi della notte, which is better known as the Audrey Hepburn classic Wait Until Dark. You've doubtless heard of it. Hepburn plays a blind woman terrorized by a sociopath. The film also starred Richard Crenna and Alan Arkin, and was directed by Terence Young, who had previously helmed the James Bond movies Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Thunderball, so there's plenty of star power here, in front of and behind the camera.
And as often happens when a movie supposedly can't miss, this one goes wide of the mark. The main problem is recurring plot unbelievability, perhaps best exemplified by the fact that Hepburn, who lives in a building where there are other apartments, and has an ally who lives in one of those flats, doesn't simply hole up at the neighbor's when the crazy man targets her. She can get there without being seen, but she doesn't take the easy escape available to her.
In real life people don't always see the best solution to a problem, but in a movie, if the filmmakers want the audience to be fully invested, the heroine or hero should make smart choices, which ratchets up the fear when those choices still fail. We wrote an essay touching on that theme a while back. Hepburn's lack of survival instinct is a pretty big issue, but okay, she's great in the film, of course, and if you really immerse yourself it will still scare you once or twice. Just don't let anyone tell you it's perfect. After opening in the U.S. in 1967 Wait Until Dark premiered in Italy today in 1968.
You want me to be a good girl? I can do that. But it'll cost you extra.
We run into Robert McGinnis everywhere. In fact, we suspect his art is so collectible that his covers are the reason some vintage paperbacks avoid oblivion. But Don Kingery's Good Time Girl, though obscure, deserves to survive on its own merits. It's a good book. The story, which is set in a small Louisiana town called Bay Ste. Marie, deals with a journalist named Jack Candless who agrees to push a false story of rape in order to advance his flagging career. The alleged victim is the town prostitute, but Candless helps make her over into a virginal good girl. The whole scheme is supposed to last only a few days, but of course it spirals completely out of control—not least because Jackie blue is a blackout drunk. This is the first time we've read Kingery, but hopefully not the last. Good Time Girl is confidently written, compellingly plotted, interestingly peopled, emotionally believable in terms of alcoholism, and has a convincing sense of place that makes clear Kingery knows the dirty south well. Top marks.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1946—Cannes Launches Film Festival
The first Cannes Film Festival is held in 1946, in the old Casino of Cannes, financed by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry and the City of Cannes.
1934—Arrest Made in Lindbergh Baby Case
Bruno Hauptmann is arrested for the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr., son of the famous American aviator. The infant child had been abducted from the Lindbergh home in March 1932, and found decomposed two months later in the woods nearby. He had suffered a fatal skull fracture. Hauptmann was tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and finally executed by electric chair in April 1936. He proclaimed his innocence to the end
1919—Pollard Breaks the Color Barrier
Fritz Pollard becomes the first African-American to play professional football for a major team, the Akron Pros. Though Pollard is forgotten today, famed sportswriter Walter Camp ranked him as "one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen." In another barrier-breaking historical achievement, Pollard later became the co-head coach of the Pros, while still maintaining his roster position as running back.
1932—Entwistle Leaps from Hollywood Sign
Actress Peg Entwistle
commits suicide by jumping from the letter "H" in the Hollywood sign. Her body lay in the ravine below for two days, until it was found by a detective and two radio car officers. She remained unidentified until her uncle connected the description and the initials "P.E." on the suicide note in the newspapers with his niece's two-day absence.
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