Stuck between the cops and a hard place.
This poster was made to promote the drama Big House, U.S.A., which premiered today in 1955, and starred Ralph Meeker, who later headlined the classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly. He also starred in one of our favorite unknown films of all time, the television production Birds of Prey, which we may talk about at a later date. Big House is basically a procedural crime drama about how the cops try to break down a kidnapper and suspected murderer played by Meeker. His character is nicknamed Ice Man because he's cool under pressure. True to form the cops can't wring a confession from him, so he's sent to prison for lesser crimes and will be released in a short while.
Ice Man thinks he's got it made. Serve easy time, earn a quick parole, then quietly retrieve the heist loot waiting for him on the outside. But cons read the news too, and several decide they want his cash. They plan an escape, and they're going to drag Ice Man along against his will or kill him for refusing. And naturally, they have no intention of letting him survive handing over the money. What a pickle. Die now or die later. But once he's on the outside maybe—just maybe—there's a chance he can turn the tables on these con-conspirators.
Big House, U.S.A. is set in Denver and the surrounding Colorado countryside, and features some nice exteriors, but it's strictly a b-movie—poorly staged, cheesily scripted, and stuck together with baling wire and chewing gum. We mentioned Meeker's starring role in Kiss Me Deadly. That came out only a month after this movie, so it was a nice recovery for him. A couple of other notes of interest in Big House are that you get to see a young and fit Charles Bronson flashing his biceps—certainly a draw for some—and the legendary Lon Chaney, Jr. gets a role as a grizzled prison inmate. The overall result is certainly watchable, but there are better prison dramas out there, and hundreds of better vintage crime flicks.
After we bust outta this joint, what do you say we form a boy band? Charles knows three guitar chords and I can sing. What are you mad at me for? Is it my fault the babes like singers best? Fuck this. Between Meeker and Bronson I'm getting no action at all. I'm starting a solo career. I heard there's a thing called Auto-Tune that'll keep even my singing voice in pitch.
Is there anything sweeter than a beautiful movie palace?
You probably recognize Grauman's Chinese Theatre, in Los Angeles. These days it's called TCL Chinese Theatre, because it's owned and operated by TCL Corporation—based in China, ironically. Since we write so often about movies we thought it appropriate to discuss the beautiful buildings in which the films were exhibited. Back in the day these were usually purpose-built structures, though some did split duty for stage productions and concerts. While many of these old palaces survive, nearly all surviving vintage cinemas in the U.S. were under threat at some point. Generally, if they hadn't been given historic protection they wouldn't be upright today.
Other times, if a city was poor, real estate costs didn't rise and old buildings stood unthreatened, usually idle. This happened often in the American midwest, where movie houses were neglected for decades before some were resurrected amid downtown revitalizations. It sometimes happens in Latin America too, although occasionally the formula fails. For example, Cartagena's majestic and oft photographed landmark Teatro Colón, located in the historic section of Colombia's most popular coastal tourist city, was torn down fewer than six months ago to make way for a Four Seasons Hotel.
Some of the cinemas below are well known treasures, while others are more unassuming places. But even those lesser known cinemas show how much thought and work was put into making moviegoing a special experience. The last photo, which shows the Butterfly Theatre in Milwaukee, exemplifies that idea. The façade is distinguished by a terra cotta butterfly sculpture adorned with light bulbs. As you might guess, many of the most beautiful large cinemas were in Los Angeles, which means that city is well represented in the collection. Enjoy.
Paramount Theatre, Oakland (operational).
Cine Maya, Mérida (demolished).
The Albee Cinema, Cincinnati (demolished)
Cooper Theatre, Denver (demolished).
Paras Cinema, Jaipur (operational).
Cathay Cinema, Shanghai (operational).
Academy Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Charlottenburg Filmwerbung, Berlin (demolished).
Pacific's Cinerama Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
York Theatre, Elmhurst (operational).
La Gaumont-Palace, Paris (demolished).
Essoldo Cinema, Newcastle (demolished).
Théâtre Scala, Strasbourg (operational).
Teatro Colón, Cartagena (demolished in 2018).
Teatro Coliseo Argentino, Buenos Aires (demolished).
Pavilion Theater, Adelaide (demolished).
El Molino Teatro, Barcelona (operational).
Fox Carthay Theatre, Los Angeles (demolished).
Kino Rossiya Teatr, Moscow (operational).
Nippon Gekijo, aka Nichigeki, Tokyo (demolished).
Cine Impala, Namibe (operational).
Cine Arenal, Havana (operational).
Teatro Mérida, Mérida (operational, renamed Teatro Armando Manzanero).
Ideal Theater, Manila (demolished).
Odeon Cinema, London (semi-demolished, converted to apartments).
Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Rex Cinema, Port au Prince (being restored).
Urania Kino, Vienna (operational).
Tampa Theatre, Tampa (operational).
The Butterfly Theater, Milwaukee (demolished).
Short of breath? Accelerated pulse rate? It might not be the altitude.
Since we're from Denver (we know it's tough to keep track because we've written about living in L.A., San Francisco, Guatemala, and the Philippines, but we are indeed from the Mile High City) we thought we'd share this promo for the Noir City Film Festival's new Denver edition. This particular noir fest (there are several) is affiliated with the San Fran fest, so it's not a surprise to see that they're reusing the art from the 8th San Francisco get together. What is a surprise is that the event is at the Alamo Drafthouse in Littleton—i.e. suburbia. Usually these events are held at historic cinemas such as the Castro in San Francisco or the Egyptian in Los Angeles. Denver has a few landmark cinemas, including the Mayan right in the city center. We assume it wasn't available. But on the plus side crime author James Ellroy will be co-hosting at the Alamo along with Film Noir Foundation president Eddie Muller. The festival will be a quickie—three days and six great thrillers: The Prowler, 711 Ocean Drive, Wicked as They Come, The Lineup, He Walked by Night, and I Walk Alone. Denverites, we highly recommend seeing film noir on a big screen. Opportunities in cities like New York, San Fran, L.A. and Chicago abound. Opportunities in the mountain west are rare. Take advantage.
I hate to sound impatient, but I've already been here like forty minutes.
There's nothing quite like cuddling up with a good piece of sleaze fiction, especially when it comes from Midwood-Tower. Alan Marshall's Sex on Arrival, which you see above with Paul Rader cover art, deals with virile young John Steward helping out summers at his parents' hotel and handling the needs of assorted horny guests. We're from Denver originally, so it wasn't hard to recognize where the story's Rocky Mountain Lodge and Cabins is located—though Marshall calls the town Skyline City. But there's this description:
“It is at this point—still on the Great Plains, but with the towering mountains so close that it seems as if a man could reach out and touch them—that Skyline City occurs. The city itself has had many incarnations. At first it was no more than a stagecoach stop, a fort and a trading post. Then, with the advent of cattle ranching on the plains and the discovery of gold in the Rockies, it grew and prospered. It became a center of trade and finance—the capital of an enormous Western empire."
These days Denver is the capital of an enormous collection of immigrants from other states. More than three-hundred thousand came from California, mainly fleeing the west coast's culture, taxes and—ironically—its immigration. Such people would not recognize the city described in Sex on Arrival, but indeed, Denver was once a live-and-let-live paradise where the foolishness described by the author wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. And we're talking about during the eighties when we were young. We can't even imagine what the city was like in 1968.
Thus the book, though set before our time, is a bit of a nostalgia trip for us. On the whole it's a love story—with numerous sexual detours of semi-explicit variety. Semi explicit as in: “Then she wriggled around and her lips were on him. And the sensation radiated outward from his groin in stronger and stronger waves. It was almost more than he could bear. Almost more than any man could bear.” It's racy but not pornographic, and the interludes are short and widely spaced, as actual plot rears its ugly head.
Midwood sleaze titles were generally written under pseudonyms, and this particular author was probably Donald E. Westlake, who admitted producing close to thirty books as Marshall and Alan Marsh. But other authors used the Marshall name too. It isn't possible to know whether this is Westlake—at least not for us—by looking for hints of his style. Whoever wrote this worked fast, and the haste shows. But if you can pick it up cheap—and we mean real cheap—it's worth a read.
Motel owner Gerald Foos spied on his guests for decades. Now his story is set for publication.
The New Yorker magazine's newest online issue features author Gay Talese's biographical account of a man who may be the most dedicated and successful voyeur who ever lived—Gerald Foos, who bought the Manor House Motel in metropolitan Denver in 1966, installed ceiling vents in more than a dozen rooms, and until 1995 watched his guests most intimate moments from an attic observation space. The vents were louvered and angled in such a way that he was invisible from below, and the attic was modified with carpet and reinforcing wood to make him undetectably silent as he lurked above his guests. In this way he observed thousands of couples, singles, and groups having sex, masturbating, arguing, using drugs, showering, using the toilet, and—on one occasion—committing murder.
Foos considered himself a researcher of sorts, and his decades of watching people's sexual liaisons gave him many insights into personal relationships as well as American society at large. All the while he took detailed notes of his observations and thoughts, which he eventually offered to Talese after contacting the author in 1980. Talese has culled those extensive writings for the publication of an upcoming book. The New Yorker article outlining Talese's meetings with Foos, their long correspondence, and the author's visit to the motel to peer through the illicit vents for himself, is long but we recommend a visit to the website to read it. And in case you're wondering, the Manor House Motel was demolished in 2014, so travelers in the Denver area need not worry about being secretly observed. At least at that motel.
He’s more of a laughing-on-the-inside kind of clown.
We would love if this issue of Uncensored Detective published this month in 1946 had a story relating to the desperate clown on the cover, but no such luck. You can read the text of the issue at this link, but we’ll summarize for those short of time—you learn about cheating spouses, a killer cop, and a millionaire con artist, but no clowns. The stories are all interesting (as are the photos and photo-illustrations posed by models that probably barely earned meal money for the week), but the tale of double homicide on Lowry Air Force Base in Denver is the one that caught our interest.
The details of the murders are not in any way fantastic, but because the parties of interest are all Chinese cadets Uncensored Detective gets to drop lines like this one: The workings of the Oriental mind are strange indeed. And this one: What secret mechanism in the Oriental mind caused a normal Chinese student to go berserk and commit murders for pride? Oh, those inscrutable Chinese.
The story is a classic case of framing the banal as somehow alien when it involves other ethnic groups, and it’s a lazy, vicious form of journalism you see often in both old magazines and modern cable news. The mechanism of murder in the Denver crime was indeed pride, and that’s not so secret or strange. The other murders in the magazine were committed for jealousy, money, and lust, and there’s nothing secret or strange about those either. What would be strange is clowns. But there isn’t a single damned one in the magazine.
Mid-century fiction’s love affair with the East produced scores of virtuoso bookcovers.
It seems time for another themed cover collection, so today we’re sharing some of the scores of Asian styled mid-century paperback fronts we’ve seen. Much of the fiction here is offensive on some level, but then quite a bit of the old literature falls into that category. The art, on the other hand, is somewhat easier to look at dispassionately. So we have thirty-two paperback covers revealing the mid-century fascination with—or exploitation of—Asian archetypes, with art by Denis McLoughlin, Robert Maguire (identically on Ne-San and The Transistor Girls), J. Oval, aka Ben Ostrick, and more. Four or five of these came from Flickr, so thanks to the original uploaders on those.
When you said you’d never be dumb enough to leave your other gun where a double-crossing little she-devil like me could find it, did you mean this gun?
Nice art from Barye Phillips (signing not with his usual "Baryé" but with his last name) for Frank O’Malley’s The Best Go First. O’Malley was in reality Denver-born western writer Frank O’Rourke, whose successful career included a string of hit novels and film adaptations. The Best Go First, a detective thriller set in Texas involving oil money and murder, was published in hardback in 1950, and in this paperback edition in 1952.
It ain’t no damn ascot, mister—it’s a bandana. And I don't mind tellin' you I don’t care for your tone.
Above is a nice but uncredited cover for Nelson Nye’s Desert of the Damned. Nye was an important author of Western fiction who wrote more than one hundred novels and co-founded the Western Writers of America guild. He also used the pseudonyms Clem Colt and Drake C. Denver. Desert of the Damned involves a man named Ben Reifel (kind of like “rifle,” see what he did there?) being hunted for a murder he didn’t commit. He has to find a way to dodge both the law and a character named Breen who’s out for revenge. Nye’s work is quite popular, and this novel was reprinted several times, and appeared electronically from Prologue Books in 2012. This Popular Library version was published in 1953.
No, sweetie, I won’t oil your rod, and FYI there are more romantic ways to ask.
Printed by Sydney, Australia’s Cleveland Publishing Co., The Lonely Gun was written by the prolific author who called himself Marshall Grover, as well as Marshall McCoy, Val Sterling, Johnny Nelson, Shad Denver, Ward Brennan and other names. He was in reality Leonard F. Meares, and he published an astounding 746 novels. Amazingly, he didn’t even see his first on the shelf until he was thirty-four—young for publishing one’s first novel, but not for publishing the first of 746. Or better yet—look at it this way: that’s an average of just more than nineteen novels every year until he died at age seventy-two.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1984—Marvin Gaye Dies from Gunshot Wound
American singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye, who was famous for a three-octave vocal range which he used on hits such as "Sexual Healing" and "What's Going On," is fatally shot in the chest by his father after an argument over misplaced business documents. Gaye scored forty-one top 40 hit singles on Billboard's pop singles chart between 1963 and 2001, sixty top 40 R&B hits from 1962 to 2001, and thirty-eight top 10 singles on the R&B chart, making him not only one of the most critically acclaimed artists of his day, but one of the most successful.
1930—Movie Censorship Enacted
In the U.S., the Motion Pictures Production Code is instituted, imposing strict censorship guidelines on the depiction of sex, crime, religion, violence and racial mixing in film. The censorship holds sway over Hollywood for the next thirty-eight years, and becomes known as the Hays Code, after its creator, Will H. Hays.
1970—Japan Airlines Flight 351 Hijacked
In Japan, nine samurai sword wielding members of the Japanese Communist League-Red Army Faction hijack Japan Airlines flight 351, which had been en route from Tokyo to Fukuoka. After releasing the passengers, the hijackers proceed to Pyongyang, North Koreas's Mirim Airport, where they surrender to North Korean authorities and are given asylum.
1986—Jimmy Cagney Dies
American movie actor James Francis Cagney, Jr., who played a variety of roles in everything from romances to musicals but was best known as a quintessential tough guy, dies of a heart attack at his farm in Stanfordville, New York at the age of eighty-six.
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