Aliens arrive on Earth to show humanity how killing is really done.
Above is a French edition of the 1898 sci-fi classic The War of the Worlds, published by Éditorial J'ai Lu in 1959 as La Guerre des mondes. H.G. Wells' vision of monstrous invaders with giant war machines, drooling mouths, and a thirst for human blood is still scary even today. The cover on this is by Italian artist Giovanni Benvenuti, a true master we've documented extensively. You can see what we've done on him by clicking here and scrolling down.
Shaft comes out swinging in the third entry in his revered blaxploitation franchise.
This poster of Richard Roundtree brandishing a massive shillelagh or whatever was made for the third film in his iconic Shaft trilogy, Shaft in Africa, which was released today in 1973. Film series often try to go bigger with each entry, so it's no surprise that this one went clear to Africa during the height of the blaxploitation wave. Looking at the poster, we wonder if the stick gimmick influenced the next year's Black Samson, in which Rockne Tarkington carried a shillelagh of his own. Cinema being generally referential, we're guessing yes. But the similarities between the movies ends there. Black Samson was exclusively concerned with urban Los Angeles, while Shaft in Africa spans three continents and touches on some unusual subject matter.
The story revolves around New York City private dick John Shaft being asked to bring down a modern slavery ring. We should note, for any who don't know, that this evil thrives in 2022. In modern slavery, people desperate for work are offered foreign jobs that turn out to be brutal and pay so little—or nothing—that its victims are trapped. They can neither escape nor go to the police, because they soon learn that their work papers are fraudulent, and are told by their enslavers that the police will imprison them for illegal immigration. Operations of this sort have been broken up in recent years in New York, Georgia, and Texas, where a sex slavery ring was uncovered in Dallas. Elsewhere, slavery rings have been busted in the British Midlands, Australia, and perhaps most notably in Dubai, where Amnesty International says forced labor was used to prepare Qatar for the upcoming World Cup.
Shaft is tasked with traveling to Ethiopia, where he will pose as a local and allow himself to be recruited by slavers so he can gather evidence for French authorities, who have learned that the victims end up in Paris. Unfortunately, Shaft quickly realizes his cover has been blown and that he can't trust anyone. In a classic American cinema example of vigilantism becoming the last best option, he decides that rather than gather evidence against the slavers it'd be better if he went human tornado on the whole stinking lot of them. He becomes, in essence, the classic cop out of control, leaving chaos in his wake as his erstwhile handlers survey the damage and occasionally go sacre bleu!
In an interesting subplot, Vonetta McGee plays Aleme, tasked with teaching Shaft local ways and a bit of language. Shaft is dismayed to learn that she's on the cusp of receiving her clitoridectomy, a coming-of-age ritual generally referred to these days as female genital mutilation. Shaft: “Listen, baby, how in the hell are you gonna know what you're missing unless you give it a little wear and tear before they take it away?” It's glib, but there's a serious undertone—probably not enough for anyone horrified by the practice, but you really can't expect more for the time period. It's actually amazing it was mentioned at all. Because this is a Shaft movie, Aleme has a hands-on experience with the hero's big brown stick and decides she better hang onto her clitoris after all.
What can you say about a movie that features Roundtree reprising his immensely popular and groundbreaking private eye, and that deals with two hot-button social issues decades before they were on the minds of the Western public? The budget is big, the pace is fast, and the international setting in and around Addis Ababa, with some scenes shot in Massawa, Eritrea, and a climax staged in Paris, offers plenty of appeal. In addition, there's McGee, a very beautiful actress who in this outing looks even better than usual, while Serbian actress Neda Arnerić plays a ridiculously horny femme fatale who'll do anything to get Shaft in the sack. Action, commentary, sex, and a bit of humor—those are excellent ingredients, but even with all that and the virtual kitchen sink thrown in we don't think Shaft in Africa is as good as the original. But that's no surprise. There's really nothing like the first time.
Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors—unless of course they happen to look.
You can consider Coulisses d'hôtels an addition to our collection of keyhole themed art from nine years back. We can't determine who painted this, but it's pretty nice, and it wraps around to an eye-catching rear. The book, which originally came in 1962 with this paperback from Éditions Paul Rohart arriving in 1964, purports to be anoymously written by a valet—hence the obvious pseudonym Monsieur Pierre—who worked in various Paris hotels. As the art suggests, he saw many curious and stimulating sights, and we gather the book fits into the category of érotisme.
Which brings us to another PSGP story. He worked at a hotel, an early job, during his college years, as a room service waiter. His story is exactly the one you'd most expect a room service waiter to have. A guest answered his knock completely naked. PSGP delivered the meal, got the signature—which took some time, as the guest had no pen handy—and eventually left. That might sound like a missed opportunity, but to PSGP it felt too much like a hidden camera gag. Plus, how would he have explained his long absence from the hotel kitchen? Clearly, he thinks too much. You can see that keyhole collection here.
You get the feeling he's not her biggest Fanfan.
Above: a well worn cover for André Héléna's Fanfan la douleur, for Éditions le Trotteur's Condor collection, 1953. The art is by Jacques Thibésart, aka Nik, and it caught our eye because it seems to have been inspired by the famous promo image from Gilda of Glenn Ford losing his temper and slapping Rita Hayworth. At least we think so. If that's the case Thibésart wasn't going for an exact duplicate, but it feels about the same. You can check for yourself at our collection of Hollywood stars—including men on men, women on men, and women on women—slapping each other. It's fourth in the set.
So just out of curiosity, why aren't you paddling an Uber? Seems like everyone else is.
This spectacular cover for Thomas Sterling's Murder in Venice was painted by James Hill, an artist of obvious skill but one we rarely encounter. The book was originally published in 1955 as The Evil of the Day, with this beautiful Dell edition coming in 1959. Sterling tells the tale of a man named Cecil Fox who invites three guests from abroad to his Venetian mansion in order to pretend he's near death and tease them with the promise of inheriting his wealth. These three guests are people he's not had much contact with in recent years, which makes the game even more delicious for him, the way the trio feel plucked from their lives of obscurity to possibly be gifted wealth and status. Factions form and subterfuges abound, but everything is thrown into disarray when one of the guests is murdered. Was it to eliminate a possible inheritor? To add intrigue to the game? Or for other, unguessable reasons?
Go with option three. The whole point of murder mysteries is to be unguessable. Murder in Venice is a pretty good puzzler, with a small set of curious characters and a few forays into the Venetian night. Sterling gets inside the head of his protagonist Celia Johns quite effectively. She's the personal assistant to one of the invitees, and thus has no skin in the game. She just wants a fair wage for a fair day's work. At least that what she says. Her host Mr. Fox, on the other hand, seems to think everyone is corruptible, and everyone is money hungry—it's just a matter of baiting the hook in the right way. He thinks he knows most people better than they know themselves, and he doesn't see Celia as any sort of exception.
While Murder in Venice is a mystery, it's also a minor sociological examination of what it means to some people to be rich but face losing their money, and what it means to others to not value money at all. Sterling scored a success, but interestingly, he borrowed the idea from Ben Johnson's play Volpone, which premiered way back in 1606. Sterling was up front about his inspiration, and within his novel the play even makes an appearance on a drawing room shelf. Frederick Knott, who wrote the famed plays Wait Until Dark and Dial M for Murder, later adapted Sterling's novel into a 1959 play called Mr. Fox of Venice. The next year the book was published in France as Le Tricheur de Venise and won Sterling the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for foreign authors. And finally, Joseph Mankiewicz combined the original play, Sterling's novel, and Knott's play into a 1967 movie called The Honey Pot.
When material gets recycled to that extent, it's usually good, and Sterling does his part. He was a diplomat before becoming an author and lived in Italy for years, so we would have liked more color from someone who obviously knew Venice well, but he's an interesting writer even without the aid of scenery, as in this moment of musing from Celia: She said, “my sleep,” as though it were, “my dress,” or, “my ring.” It belonged to her. Every night had a certain amount, and if she lost it she was frantic. She had forgotten that sleep was not a thing, it was a country. You couldn't get it, you had to go there. And it was never lost. Sometimes you missed a train, but there was always another coming after. In the meantime, neither the green hills nor the nightmare forests ever changed. They stayed where they were and you went to them. And sooner or later you would go and not come back.
This club is boring. I think we should let a few criminals join.
Above: a cover for Le club des détectives from Librairie Hatchette, 1947. The author, credited here only as Berkeley, is British writer Anthony Berkeley and this is a translation of his 1929 novel The Poisioned Chocolates Case. Berkeley's franchise detective Roger Sheringham has an informal club called the Crimes Circle where he and several pals regularly examine cases unsolved by Scotland Yard and try to deduce a solution. It's all fun and games until Sheringham recieves a box of chocolates, but gives them away, leading to a club member's wife being poisoned to death. Sheringham also wrote as Francis Iles and A. Monmouth Platts, and published more than a dozen novels. Owing to the time period, those books don't generally have the type of art that attracts us, but this French cover caught our eye.
Okay, in she goes. Now I just need some bubble wrap and a dozen or so pine air fresheners and she's good to ship.
This is such a macabre image, a man stuffing a woman's corpse in a crate, that we probably should have posted it around Halloween. 1958's Et un cercueil pour Cecilia was written by Francis Richard, aka Paul Bérato, for Société d'Editions Générale and its collection Service Secret 078. This is one of those tales where the author pretends to be the hero. In other words, it was written by Bérato as Francis Richard, but the main character is also named Francis Richard, and he's a globetrotting spy who heads to Chile on a mission, where the villains apparently crate up corpses. Though the grim art on this is not attributed, others in the series were signed E.G. or F.G. and the style here is similar. Unfortunately, we don't know who E.G. or F.G. is.
If a boxer falls when nobody hits him is it still a knockout?
We've been neglecting French promo art lately, so here'a a little something—a poster for Plus dure sera la chute, which is better known as The Harder They Fall. This was painted by Jean Mascii, whose work we last saw several years ago when we talked about the 1960 thriller Plein soleil. We recommend having a look at that to get a better sense of Mascii's skill. He created a very interesting portrait of Humphrey Bogart for this effort. This was Bogart's last movie. He filmed it while gravely ill, having been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, but did his work in legendary style, a true professional, working long hours, shooting retakes, and generally doing all he could to prevent his condition from affecting the production.
Bogart plays a struggling sports writer hired by shady fight promoter Rod Steiger to be the press agent for his new discovery—a gigantic but glass-jawed carnival strongman from Argentina named Toro Moreno. Steiger wants Bogart to sell Toro as the next great heavyweight contender, but in order to do so they need to send him on a bum-of-the-month tour to knock out a series of hapless opponents paid to take dives. After Toro has been built up in the press as the second coming of the heavyweight division, Steiger plans to make a bundle with a match against the champ, played by Max Baer. Bogart signs on for this ride because after all his work in the newspaper business he has nothing, and wants to finally make real money. But it could cost his reputation, and because Toro has no clue the fights he's winning are fixed, the scheme can only end with the poor overconfident dupe slaughtered by the champ.
Steiger would win an Academy Award in 1967 for In The Heat of the Night, and here, more than a decade earlier, you can see that achievement as almost inevitable as you watch him dominate the screen. He's simply great in this, and Bogart gives an excellent performance too, failing physically but soldiering onward, using that world weary mug of his to impart a lifetime's worth of fatigue and disappointment. The movie also features Jan Sterling. We had no idea she'd gone in for rhinoplasty, and at first weren't positive it was her. It is though, and after writing just recently how gorgeous she was we're sad she didn't see her own perfection and instead chose to go under the surgeon's knife. But her body her choice. She's good as always, here playing Bogart's conscience, trying to keep him from sliding down the slippery slope to amorality.
There's another person who should be mentioned—Mike Lane as the lumbering Toro Moreno. This was his debut role, and you'd think there weren't many more parts out there for a guy standing 6'8”, but surprisingly he accumulated almost seventy acting credits, almost all on television, where he appeared in shows of every type, from Gunsmoke to Get Smart. Obviously, any vintage boxing movie involves mimetic acting, and the fighting here isn't realistic—quantum leaps in how to convincingly portray ring scenes came later—but they serve their purpose. And for boxing realists, the movie gets extra credit due to the presence of both Baer and Jersey Joe Walcott. The Harder They Fall opened in March 1956, and had its French premiere today at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.
Fine, Toro, you're huge. Massive. Enormous. But you need to learn how to box or the champ is going to crush your face like a graham cracker. Hi, champ! Before we start, I just want to say I'm probably your biggest admir— I thought that whole graham cracker speech was just Bogie being colorful.
If you think you'll get Bardot down the aisle you've got another think coming.
We meant to share this several days ago, but you know how that goes. It's a Belgian promo poster for Brigitte Bardot's Le bride sur le cou, with the Dutch title Met losse teugels in red just below the French. You might think, based on the French title, that the movie is about a bride, but that word, which has the same origin as the English word “bridle,” means “strap,” and the title translated would be, “the strap on the neck.” In Dutch, the title translates as, “with loose reins,” so that should make clear that the movie is actually about trying to control a wild Bardot. There's little chance of that, and wild is an understatement. She turns Paris upside down. In the U.S. the movie was released under the title, Please, Not Now! The poster is worth a share because it's built around a rare image of Bardot, and the movie is worth a watch because Bardot was a phenomenon. There's no known release date for Belgium, but probably it premiered there—this poster promotes showings at the Acropole Cinema in Brussels—in the spring of 1961.
Knight falls in the City of Light.
We weren't impressed with Adam Knight's Sugar Shannon, but excellent Paul Rader cover art earned him another chance with Girl Running, published in 1956 by Signet. It has the built in advantage of being set in Paris, but in the end we have to conclude that Knight just isn't a good writer. Here's a sample, and note that when he says “stay alive” he's talking about staying awake:
I beat it back to the hotel, fighting hard to stay alive for a little while longer. I lost the fight. A shower only rocked me for a brief pause. Then the important muscles gave way and fatigue took me to bed for a cat nap. I told myself that I could sleep two hours. I phoned the desk to jerk me awake at about noon. Then Morpheus grabbed me.
Knight's main character goes to sleep three times in that paragraph—or twice, if we want to be generous. Also, the idea of a “cat nap” is incongrous with total fatigue. A cat nap is light sleep. Even sleeping for only two hours, he'd be dead to the world. The snippet is a microcosm of the book—messy, disarranged, and lacking flow and rhythm. So when it comes to Knight we'll call it a day. He's just not our thing.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1931—Schmeling Retains Heavyweight Title
German boxer Max Schmeling TKOs his U.S. opponent Young Stribling in the fifteenth round to retain the world heavyweight boxing title he had won in 1930. Schmeling eventually tallies fifty-six wins, forty by knockout, along with ten losses and four draws before retiring in 1948.
1969—Stones Guitarist Is Found Dead
Brian Jones, a founding member of British rock group Rolling Stones, is found at the bottom of his swimming pool at Crotchford Farm, East Sussex, England. The official cause of his death is recorded as misadventure from ingesting various drugs.
1937—Amelia Earhart Disappears
Amelia Earhart fails to arrive at Howland Island during her around the world flight, prompting a search for her and navigator Fred Noonan in the South Pacific Ocean. No wreckage and no bodies are ever found.
1964—Civil Rights Bill Becomes Law
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Bill into law, which makes the exclusion of African-Americans from elections, schools, unions, restaurants, hotels, bars, cinemas and other public institutions and facilities illegal. A side effect of the Bill is the immediate reversal of American political allegiance, as most southern voters abandon the Democratic Party for the Republican Party.
1997—Jimmy Stewart Dies
Beloved actor Jimmy Stewart, who starred in such films as Rear Window and Vertigo, dies at age eighty-nine at his home in Beverly Hills, California of a blood clot in his lung.
1941—NBC Airs First Official TV Commercial
NBC broadcasts the first TV commercial to be sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC began licensing commercial television stations in May 1941, granting the first license to NBC. During a Dodgers-Phillies game broadcast July 1, NBC ran its first commercial, from Bulova, who paid $9 to advertise its watches.
1963—Kim Philby Named as Spy
The British Government admits that former high-ranking intelligence diplomat Kim Philby had worked as a Soviet agent. Philby was a member of the spy ring now known as the Cambridge Five, along with Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross. Of the five, Philby is believed to have been most successful in providing classified information to the Soviet Union. He defected to Russia, was feted as a hero and even given his commemorative stamp, before dying in 1988 at the age of seventy-six.
1997—Robert Mitchum Dies
American actor Robert Mitchum dies in his home in Santa Barbara, California. He had starred in films such as Out of the Past, Blood on the Moon
, and Night of the Hunter
, was called "the soul of film noir," and had a reputation for coolness
that would go unmatched until Frank Sinatra arrived on the scene.
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