Certain breeds of insects are going extinct, according to scientists. We didn't need their help to figure that out.
Above is an alternate cover for James M. Cain's racy 1947 novel The Butterfly. The edition we showed you previously (paired with a short write-up of the disastrous movie starring Pia Zadora) was from Dell, with art by Frank McCarthy. This one came from Signet in 1955, and it's really hard to find. By far it's the rarest of any of Cain's Butterfly editions. But it's worth seeking out because the cover is great. It's uncredited, though. See the previous cover here.
In my experience the ones who think I'm sinful are always the ones I won't let join the fun.
Above is a brilliant cover for James M. Cain's Sinful Woman painted by Barye Phillips, early work from him, and among his best. This was published by Avon in 1947, and though it isn't hard to find it's dear to purchase. The story involves a famous actress who goes to Reno for a quickie divorce from her movie producer husband. When she runs into problems she charms the local sheriff—a big fan of her work—into helping out, but must deal with increasing complications. Most agree Sinful Woman isn't Cain's best, but from a purely literary perspective he's a better writer than most, even in lesser efforts. It's well worth a read.
The eyes have it in for you.
Above, a beautiful promo poster for the film noir Mildred Pierce made for the film's run in France, which began today in 1947, more than a year after its U.S. premiere. This is pure awesomeness from artist Roger Rojac. Note that it touts Joan Crawford's Academy Award triumph, her win as best actress. It was also nominated for best picture but beaten by Lost Weekend, which is these days considered a bit of a cheeseball classic. We have our earlier write-up on Mildred Pierce here, and a nice promo image for the film at this link.
There's no way to avoid paying what's owed.
We just talked about the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, so why not take a moment to focus on the movie, since it premiered today in 1946? Even if it weren't a widely known classic of lust and murder, when John Garfield fetches up at a rural gas station and sees a sign that reads “man wanted,” you suspect where the movie is going. Such a sign, if posted by Nick, the owner, could say “help wanted” or “job available,” but as worded it cleverly establishes the subtext that it's his platinum blonde wife Lana Turner that really wants a man. Garfield and Turner's mutual attraction is immediate and obsessive. The affair starts shortly thereafter, leads to a failed scheme to run off together, then finally devolves into a murder plot. But murder in film noir is never easy. Character-wise, some edges were rounded off James M. Cain's novel, which was a good decision—those two lovers are throughly reprehensible; Garfield and Turner at least generate some sympathy. But not too much—murderers are murderers and just desserts are just for a reason. Highly recommended flick.
Once you open the package there's no returning the contents.
There are numerous vintage editions of James M. Cain's classic thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice out there, including one from the Spanish publisher Bruguera that we showed you years ago, but we recently got our hands on this 1947 Pocket Books edition, with a cover by Tom Dunn. We read the book, and there are several interesting aspects to the novel, including frightening violence, a generally amoral view of the world, and this:
I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers...
“Bite me! Bite me!”
I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.
Obsessive lust. We get it. Still, it's bizarre. Then there's this:
"Well, get this. I'm just as white as you are, see? I may have dark hair and look a little [Mexican], but I'm just as white as you are."
It was being married to that Greek that made her feel she wasn't white.
Caustic racism. Later the femme fatale, Cora, explains that she simply cannot tolerate having a child with the aforementioned husband, who she married for security. “I can't have no greasy Greek child, Frank. I can't, that's all.” Cain establishes with this style of banter that his two main characters are bad people. But The Postman Always Rings Twice is great, and nobody ever said literature is supposed to be easy to read. This is fast-paced pulp fiction that's about as good as you'll ever find. Highly recommended.
Spare the rod, spoil the child.
We ran across this West German poster for Solange ein herz schlaegt, aka Mildred Pierce, and realized we had a substantial gap in our film noir résumé. So we watched the movie, and what struck us about it immediately is that it opens with a shooting. Not a lead-in to a shooting, but the shooting itself—fade in, bang bang, guy falls dead. These days most thrillers bludgeon audiences with big openings like that, but back in the day such action beats typically came mid- and late-film. So we were surprised by that. What we weren't surprised by was that Mildred Pierce is good. It's based on a James M. Cain novel, is directed by Michael Curtiz, and is headlined by Joan Crawford. These were top talents in writing, directing, and acting, which means the acclaim associated with the movie is deserved.
While Mildred Pierce is a mystery thriller it's also a family drama revolving around a twice-married woman's dysfunctional relationship with her gold-digging elder daughter, whose desperation to escape her working class roots leads her to make some very bad decisions. Her mother, trying to make her daughter happy, makes even worse decisions. The movie isn't perfect—for one, the daughter's feverish obsession with money seems extreme considering family financial circumstances continuously improve; and as in many movies of the period, the only black character is used as cringingly unkind comic relief. But those blemishes aside, this one is enjoyable, even if the central mystery isn't really much of a mystery. Solange ein herz schlaegt, aka Mildred Pierce opened in West Germany today in 1950.
Nothing a little dying won't fix.
Narrated from the deck of a boat floating on the crystalline Caribbean, The Root of His Evil is the tale of a money-hungry femme fatale who rises from greasy spoon waitress to NYC union organizer to wealthy woman, all by age twenty-four. James M. Cain originally wrote this tale way back in 1938 as “The Modern Cinderella,” and immediately sold it to Hollywood, where it spawned the 1939 movie When Tomorrow Comes. He ended up suing for copyright infringement when the filmmakers borrowed a scene from another of his novels without paying for it. You can read details of that incident here if you're inclined. Some Cain fans love The Root of His Evil; the more prevalent opinion is that it isn't among his best. We'll say this much—there's no focus on crime here, just on questionable deeds. But we like the cover of this Avon paperback. It's less sophisticated than some good girl art, but strikes the right tone. It appeared in 1952 and is uncredited.
They call it the Devil’s wheel for a reason.
It’s been a while since we’ve put together a pulp collection, so below you’ll find vintage cover art that uses the roulette wheel as a central element. They say only suckers play roulette, and that’s especially true in pulp, where even if you win, eventually you lose the money and more. Art is by Ernest Chiriaka, Robert Bonfils, Robert McGinnis, and many others.
James M. Cain explores the making of a femme fatale.
Years back there was a line in The Saturday Review of Literature that famously declared, “No one has ever stopped reading in the middle of one of Jim Cain’s books.” Well, we almost stopped reading Cain's newly published posthumous novel The Cocktail Waitress. The protagonist, divorcée Joan Medford, is forced to get a job as a bar server after her husband dies in an auto accident. As the cover art by Michael Koelsch depicts, the job requires her to show a lot of skin. She hates it, but soon learns it provides opportunities with the various regulars. The main thrust of the novel involves a basically good woman deciding to use any means at her disposal to wrest her child back from a predatory relative. To the old man she wants to marry for money (and to impress child custody authorities) she's a femme fatale. To the cop who knows she's fighting to win back her child she's a brave mother. To the young man who's spurned in favor of the rich man she's psychological torture.
Her multifaceted nature is interesting, but would work better if Cain spent less time inside her head. But that's where he lives for the entirety of the book, mansplaining his way in circles. You'd know the character was written by a man even if the book were anonymous. We don't claim to know how women think, but we know they don't think like this. Cain wrote many drafts of The Cocktail Waitress—which may be an indication he knew he was in over his head. But for all the issues with the book, we think it's a win—narrowly. And the ending, with its twist that may be lost on readers unless they remember Thalidomide, is Cain at his nasty best. Posthumous novels are rarely great, and authors with long careers are rarely as good at the end as at the beginning or middle. The Cocktail Waitress is both posthumous Cain and late Cain, so we can say without too much fear of contradiction that he's done much better. But Cain fans, we expect, will love this one anyway.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1948—Paige Takes Mound in the Majors
Satchel Paige, considered at the time the greatest of Negro League pitchers, makes his Major League debut for the Cleveland Indians at the age of 42. His career in the majors is short because of his age, but even so, as time passes, he is recognized by baseball experts as one of the great pitchers of all time.
1965—Biggs Escapes the Big House
Ronald Biggs, a member of the gang that carried out the Great Train Robbery in 1963, escapes from Wandsworth Prison by scaling a 30-foot wall with three other prisoners, using a ladder thrown in from the outside. Biggs remains at large for nearly forty years.
NBC radio broadcasts the cop drama Dragnet for the first time. It was created by, produced by, and starred Jack Webb as Joe Friday. The show would later go on to become a successful television program, also starring Webb.
1973—Lake Dies Destitute
Veronica Lake, beautiful blonde icon of 1940s Hollywood and one of film noir's most beloved fatales
, dies in Burlington, Vermont of hepatitis and renal failure due to long term alcoholism. After Hollywood, she had drifted between cheap hotels in Brooklyn and New York City and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. A New York Post
article briefly revived interest in her, but at the time of her death she was broke and forgotten.
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