In New York City people of a certain class live on the Upper East Side. Stockbrokers, lawyers, Nazis...
This poster would have sucked us right through the moviehouse doors had we been around when it was on display. It has beautiful colors, an air of mystery, a nice design, and dramatic graphics. The House on 92nd Street, which starred William Eythe, Lloyd Nolan, and Signe Hasso (who we've seen a lot of lately), definitely doesn't rise to the level of the promo art. It qualifies as a propaganda film, though the events depicted are accurate. But with J. Edgar Hoover appearing briefly in the prologue, a stentorian narration, stilted dialogue, and a soundtrack that veers toward the martial, it's pretty hard to immerse yourself in what is undeniably a Hollywood-on-FBI stroke job.
If you take the plunge, the movie turns out to be about a German American student who is recruited by Nazis but instead becomes a double agent for the FBI during the period when World War II was raging in Europe but the U.S. wasn't militarily involved yet. German spies had been deployed around the U.S., and the movie deals with a particular group that gets wind of an important military secret, the secret of—dum dum duuuuuuum—the bomb. You know. The big bomb. The A-bomb. The nuke. The edge. The be-all. The end-all. The mushroom cloud layin', eyeball meltin', city flattenin', effervescently fissionatin' ordnance both Germany and the U.S. thought would win the war. Good premise, actually.
But since World War II was almost over when the film came out, the plot's outcome was a given. Did audiences feel any suspense? We aren't convinced. Even if the FBI hadn't routed out the spies, the skyrocketing Upper East Side real estate prices would have. The Nazis would have moved to the Bronx seeking cheaper rent. With the conclusion not in doubt, the movie's thrills needed to be provided by the audience's attachment to double agent Eythe, who's in constant danger of being outed and de-cortexed by a Luger slug. Unfortunately, he's mostly an empty suit, therefore the movie fails on that level. It was well reviewed in its day, but duh, critics need to eat too. We doubt many would have panned the movie at that time. But the lens of history is cruel and today the film is considered substandard.
The best aspect of The House on 92nd Street is Signe Hasso as the cast iron Frau Farbissina style bitch operating the nest of naughty Nazis, but she's not enough to save the production—nor ultimately the spy ring. If the filmmakers had ditched the narration, the scare music, the scare Hoover, and gone less procedural and more personal, maybe there would have been a good film in this somewhere, but as it turned out it's just a middling crime melodrama considered to be a fringy film noir—certainly one the genre could do without. The poster, though, remains very nice. The House on 92nd Street premiered today in 1945.
They fought the law and the law won.
Indeed guns don't argue. Rarely have truer words screamed from a movie poster, and we've come across few titles more fitting for a crime film. What you get here is a narrated docudrama about how U.S. federal agents began to carry guns, and use them. In the past they hadn't been authorized to do so, but faring poorly against machine gun-toting gangsters like Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger, and Bonnie and Clyde changed that. Pretty soon we see g-men picking off criminals like tin ducks in a shooting gallery, and the narrator drones lines such as, “Like flies to a sticky bun the curious clustered at the sound of the excitement.” Mmm... sticky buns.
The movie was edited together from three episodes of the moralizing 1952 television series Gangbusters and released on the national b-circuit in September 1957. It's as slapdash as it sounds, cheap as single-ply toilet paper, clumsily scripted, and hilariously acted by the likes of Jeanne Carmen, Myron Healey, and Lash La Rue. We recommend giving it a pass unless you want to subject it to the Mystery Science Theatre treatment—i.e. watch it with booze and smart-ass friends. But even if the movie purely sucks, we had to show you this poster. It's quite a nice item. We have a zoom on selling point Jeanne Carmen below. Guns Don't Argue premiered in the U.S. this month in 1957.
Serial killer art released in effort to solve cold cases.
As pulp art fans we were a bit amazed by this next news item. The FBI has just released drawings imprisoned serial killer Samuel Little made of his victims, with the hope that the images will help in solving open cases. Little is serving life for three murders he committed in California, but he claims to have killed ninety women over nearly four decades. Law enforcement in various states have definitively linked him to more than thirty murders. Many of those killings were not classified as such at the time because Little's preferred method of dispatch was to knock the women out and strangle them, which meant that there were not always clear signs of foul play if the remains went undiscovered for any amount of time.
But now, by circulating these drawings, authorities hope to close dozens of cases scattered throughout the United States in places the nomadic Little is suspected to have traveled. The feds are being helped by Little himself, who agreed to cooperate in exchange for being allowed a transfer to a new prison. He's 78 years old and in poor health, which means it's basically now or never in securing his assistance.
After Little dies in prison it will be interesting to see what eventually happens to these drawings. In the past such artifacts tended to end up in repositories such as the Black Museum and similar places, but in this day and age we suspect they'll be destroyed once their usefulness is agreed to have passed. Since they're incredibly sad when considered in context, destruction may be a fitting end for them. But it's also possible, though not likely, that they could be sold and the proceeds used to compensate victims' families. One thing is for sure—there are plenty of collectors of the morbid out there who would buy them.
Just because they're kidnappers doesn't mean they're bad people.
This FBI wanted poster was issued for Clarence Vernon Stevens today in 1937, in connection with a kidnapping case dating back to 1933. Clearly, the FBI were having no luck finding their target. In May 1933 Stevens and three accomplices had kidnapped Kansas City rich girl Mary McElroy right out of her bathtub one night and demanded a hefty $60,000 ransom from her father for her safe return. In the end they got $30,000, but they also got caught—all except for Stevens. While his accomplices were tried and sentenced to, respectively death, life, and eight years, police scoured the state for Stevens. Eventually they decided he might have hidden himself somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The FBI got involved in the search, resulting in the above poster.
Mary McElroy had developed a bond with her kidnappers and lobboed for more lenient sentences for the three that had been caught on the grounds that they had treated her decently. She successfully petitioned Missouri governor Guy Brasfield Park to have the death penalty handed one of her captors commuted to life, explaining in a letter, “Through punishing a guilty man, his victim will be made to suffer equally. [snip] In pleading for Walter McGee's life I am pleading for my own peace of mind.” She was very likely being truthful about her mental state—after the event she suffered from all sorts of mental disorders, problems she attributed to concern for the imprisoned men she now considered friends. We're sure a modern headshrinker would have a more in-depth explanation, something along the lines of PTSD.
Whether McElroy's problems originated from the kidnapping itself or from subsequent anxiety concerning the state punishing them on her behalf, the rest of her life did not go well. She had several nervous breakdowns—as such incidents were called back then—never moved out of her father's house, and became addicted to opium. In January 1949 she committed suicide at age thirty-two by shooting herself in the head with a pistol. She left a note that read, “My four kidnappers are probably the four people on earth who don't consider me an utter fool. You have your death penalty now - so - please - give them a chance. Mary.” But her death brought about no change in her kidnappers' status. One had already been paroled as scheduled, but the other two remained in prison. As for Clarence Vernon Stevens, he was never caught.
An American crime story.
Written by The Gordons, who were the tandem of spouses Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon, FBI Story follows Agent John Ripley as he investigates the disappearance of a woman named Genie. She's wanted for theft by the FBI, and by the Los Angeles police as a person of interest in a murder case. Ripley finds that he and the missing woman have a lot in common, a fact revealed by his perusal of her bookshelf and diary. Is she really a criminal or just a desperate woman in deep trouble? As the investigation unfolds and the search spans the entire United States, we learn that other people are after her, including a millionaire American fascist who looks like Hitler and rants about the master race. Eventually Ripley uncovers jewel thievery, treason, and the mysterious Genie herself.
Originally published in hardback on the heels of World War II in 1950, FBI Story delves deeply into the weariness and cynicism of combat vets, of which Ripley is one, yet all the agents are unswervingly dutiful and honest. Considering the fact that the novel is dedicated to J. Edgar Hoover, one could be excused for branding it propaganda. In fact, Gordon Gordon was an ex-FBI agent and had J. Edgar Hoover approve his work. Even so, FBI Story is generally considered a good read. It was later turned into a movie starring James Stewart and Vera Miles. The Bantam edition of the book is from 1955 with uncredited art, and the Corgi one appeared in 1957 with Mitchell Hooks on the cover chores.
You can't hide from the FBI.
Talk about a shitty day. The artful above photo shows Eleanor Kindig, who was arrested for giving false information to the FBI. The Compton, California native disappeared, and after being found in New Mexico, spun a fanciful tale about being abducted. She had run away to avoid legal troubles back in California. Thanks to her fib, her troubles were just starting. That was today in 1952, and the photo is from the Los Angeles Examiner collection held at the University of Southern California.
Just when you thought you’d heard the worst about J. Edgar Hoover.
Yale University historian Beverly Gage has found an uncensored version of a threatening letter sent to civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover personally engineered. The letter, which she found as part of research into an upcoming Hoover biography and which has been confirmed as his handiwork, features a fake disgruntled supporter taunting and chastising King, and later urging him to commit suicide. The suicide part is unspoken, but the letter states:
King there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. [snip] You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal self is bared to the nation.
Hoover’s brainstorm was that King would be so afraid of having his marital infidelity exposed that he’d rather die than see his reputation ruined. When King publicly declared that the FBI and Hoover were after him, the cackles of laughter from the mainstream press and general masses reached the mountaintops. And yet, as so often happens in history, it turns out the government had, in fact, acted far beyond its legal mandate, or even everyday sanity. We now know that under Hoover the FBI harassed not only King, but other political figures, various activist groups, and even harmless Hollywood performers. But this letter represents an incredible new low. More tidbits:
King, like all frauds your end is approaching.
Your “honorary” degrees, your Nobel Prize (what a grim farce) and other awards will not save you.
Satan could not do more. What incredible evilness.
There’s more, but you get the gist. The word “evil” is used six times in the one page screed. To imagine the FBI reduced to such an act of impotent cowardice astonishes, but desperate times call for desperate measures—as one of only a few official apartheid nations left in the world at that time, the U.S. was taking a beating in international circles. Scenes of unarmed protesters attacked by German shepherds had played on television sets around the planet. A change had begun that some of the most powerful entities in America wanted stopped. But no smears, no threats, and not even the murder of numerous civil rights activists, including King, could stem the tide.
That swell reached a high water mark. But unhealed wounds, social polarization, regressive lunacy, and political opportunism eventually rolled it back. Today, pundits tell credulous audiences numbering in the tens of millions that the bestowing of equal rights to African Americans wasa mistake. Worse, in just the few minutes we spent looking around the internet for a bit of material to write this post we ran into so many defenses of Hoover’s actions that it made us wonder if it was 1965 again. J. Edgar would have liked that. But what he wouldn’t have liked is that his enemy is a global icon while he's a historical embarrassment.
Our civilization has avoided nuclear destruction so far, but has it been by design or chance?
This debris cloud was generated yesterday in 1952 by the nuclear blast codenamed Dog, which was part of Operation Tumbler-Snapper, a series of tests that occurred at the Nevada Test Site that year. The people you see in the image are just a few of the 2,100 marines who observed the explosion. Last month Chatham House released a sobering nuclear study showing that there have been thirteen incidents since 1962 that qualify as “near use” of nuclear weapons. In two of those—the famed Oleg Penkovsky incident and the less famous but more serious Stanislaw Petrov incident—nuclear holocaust may have been averted only because individuals disobeyed orders. Chatham House also details many instances of “sloppy practice.” Two examples: President Jimmy Carter once left the U.S. nuclear launch codes in a suit that was taken to the dry cleaners, and in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was shot, his bloody pants containing the launch codes ended up in the hands of FBI agents who had no authorization to possess them. There are instances of sloppy practice from as recently as 2013. If you’re in the mood for some sobering reading, the report is here.
Thirty-eight years later the FBI still can’t get him Hoffa their list of troublesome unsolved cases.
One of the most famous missing persons in American history is back in the news. The FBI is searching a field in suburban Detroit where they've been informed long missing and presumably murdered Teamsters labor union president Jimmy Hoffa was buried. Hoffa disappeared in July 1975 from the parking lot of a Detroit restaurant and was never seen again.
The new search is occurring because an ex-Mafia underboss named Tony Zerilli told the Detroit TV station WDIV in February that he knew where Hoffa was buried. Zerilli says Hoffa was bound, gagged, smacked on the head with a shovel and buried alive. Why did he come forward now? You guessed it—he’s promoting a book. Did he actually see Hoffa get the brutal treatment he descibes? No, he was told about it—if he’d been there personally that would constitute a crime, right?
Will Hoffa actually turn up? Hard to say. The FBI is making noises that Zerilli is a credible source, but we think two other factors are just as important in triggering this search—Hoffa’s place in American cold case lore is a longtime thorn in the FBI’s side, and, probably of more importance, the Hoffa family remains prominent even today, with one of his sons serving as the current Teamsters president and one of his daughters a former circuit judge. Zerilli says he was told Hoffa was buried beneath a concrete slab inside a barn. The barn has since been razed but the FBI are bringing in heavy equipment to dig up the area. Zerilli’s report is believable in at least one sense—Hoffa has been reported to be buried everywhere from the Florida Everglades to the New Jersey Meadowlands, but the field where the FBI is searching is just a short distance from where he was last seen alive.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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