You knew those Reese's Cups were mine but you ate them anyway! Was it worth it? Well? Was it worth it?
This is a rarity on mid-century paperbacks—the strangler on Edward Vebell's cover for the 1951 thriller The Candy Kid is the protagonist. We almost never see one like this where the aggressive male isn't the villain, but it happens. In this case, he thinks the femme fatale has murdered his cousin. But he gets ahold of himself after a few seconds and gives her a chance to convince him that he's wrong. Telling you that isn't a spoiler, because the rear cover text reveals the murder anyway, and the hero's reaction isn't a turning point within the plot. He's pissed. But he gets over it.
The Candy Kid was written by the respected Dorothy B. Hughes, and she sticks close to the American southwest she explored in books such as 1946's Ride the Pink Horse. Here her main character, José “the Strangler” Aragon, is randomly selected on the streets of El Paso by upper class beauty Dulcinda “Sore Neck” Farrar to do a shady favor—take an envelope to across the border to Ciudad Juarez and exchange it for a package to be returned to her. She's chosen him because he looks like an itinerant laborer, like someone who needs, “un poco dinero.”
Actually, though, Aragon is a well-to-do rancher. He'd just gotten back from cowpunching when Dulcinda saw him, and he was sweaty and covered in grime. The whole thing was a joke to him. Based on her assumption, he'd pretended to be an immigrant day laborer, planning to reveal himself as a man of means to the pretty gringa later. But he takes more and more interest in this package business, and ends up performing the errand. Then the package is stolen from him.
What follows is a mystery involving a Greek crime kingpin, murder and revenge, twists and surprises, and unsolved crimes across the border. The odd title of the book comes from Dulcinda's name. Everyone calls her Dulcy, which in Spanish sounds like “dulce,” which means “sweet,” which causes one of the Mexican characters trying to remember her name to say, “that candy kid.” It's an involved journey. But then so is the tale.
We'll just come out and say it isn't Hughes' best, but she's always a fascinating author, particularly here, where she deftly captures the border atmosphere and attempts to portray a Mexican-American character who speaks Spanish and is comfortable on either side of the Rio Grande, yet is culturally distinct from his cousins down south. Some of those interactions have subtle class tensions that make them among the most interesting in the book. Other areas of the story are less successful. The biggest flaw is character motivation—Aragon has no compelling reason to get involved in Dulcy's troubles until his cousin dies, at the halfway mark. Following through on a prank just isn't enough.
But you can't fault the level of technical skill on display, although Hughes writes in an unusual style filled with comma splices: It would have been funny, he was always the one who delayed the crowd, he knew everyone from Chihuahua to Mesa Verde. It works fine, which proves that if done just right an author can break any rule they want. Well, almost any rule. A crucial one for genre fiction is: make sure your protagonist really wants something. Even Hughes wasn't able to break that one and get away with it.
There's no bottom in sight.
In High Dive Frank O'Rourke uses one of the time-honored tropes of mid-century crime fiction—the escape to Mexico. This 1955 Bantam edition has cover art which we like very much. It successfully captures the mysterious mood of the story, which centers around an unnamed Pacific resort town. That town is obviously Acapulco, a fact made clear from the book's cliff diving scenes. The fun begins when an insurance investigator named Jim Bradley rents a house in order to lie in wait for armored car robbers he feels will turn up there with the stolen loot sooner or later. He whiles away the months interacting with a menagerie of secretive expats, sultry women, and his true and faithful love Maria.
The most interesting aspect of High Dive is its style. It's lightly Hemingway flavored, making for a curious hybrid—part mystery, part lost generation. In addition to the prose, Hemingwayesque elements include: a sexually dissatisfied wife and a sad, cuckolded husband acting out their tragic pantomime of a marriage; numerous meet-ups for cocktails and generally constant drinking; an atmosphere of Americans existing but not thriving in a foreign land; and a local spectacle—not bullfighting, but cliff diving—that intermittently shifts from background to foreground in order to frame certain plot points. Yeah, it's pretty good, this book.
O'Rourke, who also published as Kevin Connor, Frank O'Malley, and Patrick O'Malley, mostly wrote westerns, and perhaps that's why he seems so comfortable in this Mexican space. For some readers it may take too long—about half the novel—for the protagonist to make actual headway solving the case of the armored car loot. His break finally comes when the wife of one of the robbers turns up in town. Or at least that's what he thinks. But is she really involved, and is her husband really one of the crooks? Perhaps, but by then the missing money isn't the attraction of the story. It's the disparate personal narratives, which are resolved as appropriate—triumph, tragedy, irony, and all the rest. High Dive was a pleasant surprise.
James Mason's tropical paradise may not be an accurate portrayal, but you can't say it's not fun.
This nice poster was made for the British produced South Seas movie Tiara Tahiti, which opened in the UK today in 1963. There are a few posters but this one is the best, we think, though we had to do some heavy retouching to make it presentable. An alternate promo appears below. The movie is a comedy-drama about former business partners played by James Mason and John Mills, who clashed in England, fought the Germans in World War II, and have both turned up in Tahiti during peacetime. Part of their dislike for each other is due to their opposite personalities. Mills is the uptight sort who wishes to be respected but isn't, while Mason is naturally likeable and happy-go-lucky. One reason for him to be happy is that his girlfriend is Rosenda Monteros. She's supposed to be an island girl, and though she's Mexican in real life rather than Tahitian, she's smoking hot whatever her place of birth.
The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Geoffrey Cotterell, and we're tempted to acquire it. We've gotten pretty good at filling in between the scenes of vintage cinema, and because Monteros is Mason's girlfriend but has flirtatious interactions with other men, we suspect there's an explicitly sexual aspect to the book that was tossed into the screenwriter's garbage bin. We say that because we've read a couple of novels from the mid-century period set in Tahiti, and in both of those local women were portrayed—and we have no way of knowing whether this was true or a white Western fantasy—as readily available. Sex is only hinted at in Tiara Tahiti, but Monteros has a nude scene in a waterfall pool and another topless sequence, and she looks flat-out astonishing in both. We gather these occurred only in the non-U.S. version. Well, try to find that one.
You won't be surprised to learn that there are a few offensive characterizations here, even up to plastering Czech actor Herbert Lom with makeup and prosthetic eyes so he can play a Chinese islander named Chong Sing. There are some who resent this kind of thing being pointed out, but realizing how anachronistic these sorts of elements are isn't different in essence from noting that old vampire movies have bats on strings. It's impossible to look at it and not see it as kind of dumb. There's a better way to do it now, that's all, and that betterway also offers opportunities in cinema for historically erased groups like the Asian actor who could have played Chong Sing. But movies are still just attempts at entertainment. With notable exceptions like The Birth of a Nation, deliberately harmful portrayals of selected ethnic groups was not a goal. As it happens, Lom is quite good in his role. While he and Monteros are important secondary attractions, it's Mason who provides the real reason to watch Tiara Tahiti. He's perfect as the layabout main character—charming, clever, selfish, and always able to improvise when circumstances require it. His old rival Mills is in Tahiti to develop pristine local land for a hotel chain, while Mason is on the opposite side of this paradise-wrecking business deal. He manages to get hired as the project's local expert, but all the while is trying to sabotage the deal from the inside. Of course, Tahiti eventually became dotted with hotels and barely-used millionaire hideaways like everyplace else, and currently is taking steps to reduce mass arrivals from overseas, but within the context of this quaint movie from a lifetime ago, maybe Mason can win. However it turns out, Tiara Tahiti should give you a few smiles.
The liar that came in from the cold.
Above is a nice Belgian poster for the Mexican melodrama Susana, which was known in Belgium as Susana l'Impure in French, and Susana, de Eerloze in Dutch. We talked a long while back about this story of a family shaken by the arrival of sexy young Rosita Quintana. Shorter version: not everybody caught out in a rainstorm deserves to be rescued. The movie premiered in Mexico in April 1951 and reached Belgium today in 1955.
Someone said lucha libre and Santo showed up looking for free food.
The Mexican action movie Santo en el museo de cera, known in English as Santo in the Wax Museum, is the eighth cinematic outing for everyone's favorite crime fighting wrestler Santo el Enmascarado de Plata. He's your favorite too. You just don't know it yet. In this Santo adventure the sinister and obviously mad scientist Dr. Kurt Karol, a horribly burned Auschwitz survivor, has a museum filled with (not) wax figures of historical personages such as Gary Cooper, Gandhi, and Stalin. All well and good, but in the creepy, cavern-like basement section he also has (not) wax representations of terrors such as the Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein's monster, and other, unidentifiable creatures. And even deeper inside the complex? That's where his secret lab lies.
People begin disappearing from the vicinity of the museum, including an intrepid photojournalist played by Roxana Bellini. Her sister Norma Mora raises a fuss with the cops, which prompts Dr. Karol's oblivious colleague Professor Galván to suggest summoning the chunky Santo away from one of his thrice-daily all-you-can-eat buffets to get to the bottom of the mystery. Actually, this being an earlier Santo film, our hero is a bit more traditional luchador than middle-aged lunchador, but not by much. Santo soon realizes that Dr. Karol is assembling an army of half-animal abominations. But there's more. His crowning achievement will be the creation of a savage panther lady. Rowrrrr. How to foil the plan? Get captured as usual, fight a dozen henchmen, smash the lab to matchsticks.
This movie is one of those deals where nobody notices that the (not) wax figures are actually people standing very still. Obviously, it's a hell of a lot cheaper to have a dude in make-up than any sort of sculpture or mannequin, and the Santo movies take cheapness to new lows. But they have a fun spirit that made them huge hits with Mexican filmgoers, and we have to admit they're hard to resist. The bargain basement sets, clunky action, and shoddy direction normally would all be fatal minuses, but the classic boy-saves-world plots are entertaining, and who can resist a man in a gimp mask? We'll follow Santo and his semi-erect nipples wherever they lead. Santo en el museo de (no) cera premiered today in 1963.
Yes, I'd like to order three large deluxe pizzas for delivery. Extra saturated fat, please. I'll combine your journalistic instincts and photographic eye with your sister's beauty and bouffant hairdo and have— Well, I'm not 100% sure. We'll just have to give it a whirl!
I also have some economic ideas. You see, we cut taxes on the rich, and instead of hoarding the extra billions, they let much of it trickle down to the rest of us. I'm as sane as the next man! Hahahahahaha!
When you cross the line trouble is sure to follow.
This bright poster for Dödsdalen was made for the Swedish run of the U.S. drama Border Incident, an interesting vintage film about illegal immigration—a hot button issue everywhere these days. Ricardo Montalbán stars as a Mexican investigator named Pablo Rodriquez who goes undercover as a migrant worker and crosses the border illegally to try and get to the bottom of why and by whom migrants are being exploited and sometimes murdered. He gets support from U.S. immigration cop George Murphy, who's equally eager to apprehend the evildoers.
We were curious what sort of treatment migrants would get in the screenplay, and it was generally compassionate. The years we lived in Guatemala we became acquainted with some locals and learned quickly that the vast majority of those who left for the States didn't want to go. Well, we didn't learn it—we already knew it because it's a no-brainer. Leave their families, wives, children, culture, social networks, and all sense of security? Of course they don't want to do it. But for the most part it's go north or go hungry. If that kind of dilemma isn't worthy of a person's compassion, we don't know what is.
Montalbán brings authenticity and passion to his performance. You may remember we thought he should have starred in Touch of Evil instead of Charlton Heston. His character comes under suspicion immediately—his hands are too soft to belong to a migrant. Murphy, working undercover from the other end, also gets into hot water, but survives a beating and torture to get next to the crooks. They're from the U.S., which of course is plausible. No industry as profitable as human trafficking is controlled from only one side of a border. Americans make money on it and always have. These particular Americans will kill to keep the profits coming in, which means Montalbán and Murphy have their hands full.
Border Incident scores well in mood, tension, and seriousness, and is well photographed in noir style, and in fact qualifies as a film noir, though one that's rarely cited. It was helmed by Anthony Mann—the noir veteran behind T-Men, Railroaded!, and Raw Deal, and his expereience and style help make the movie more than the sum of its production budget. When you add it all up, what you have here is a flick that's worth seeing, not least because Montalbán is a natural star. He's great in this. Border Incident premiered in the U.S. in late 1949 and opened in Sweden as Dödsdalen—"valley of death"—today in 1950.
Alexa please find alternate route to redemption.
You wouldn't think a movie titled One Way Street would be set almost entirely in rural Mexico, but that's exactly the case with this obscure oddity that's like a film noir wrapped around a South Seas drama. Veteran thief Dan Duryea and his henchman William Conrad stage a bank heist, get away with $200,000, and hole up in an apartment. But medical attention is required, and a doctor is called. You've heard of mob lawyers. This is a mob doctor. Played by James Mason, he's 100% crooked, bent by years of treating gangsters and hiding evidence of their crimes. But he's tired of scratching out an existence, so after he gives Duryea a couple of supposedly helpful pills, he reveals that they were really poison and walks out with the bank loot, using the antidote as his guarantee of safety. And he doesn't only steal the money. He also steals Duryea's girlfriend Märta Torén.
The duo charter a small plane to Mexico City, but the aircraft has mechanical trouble and makes an emergency landing, after which they're stuck in a remote village somewhere in the jungle east of Guadalajara. Mason gave up practicing real medicine a long time ago, but he's drawn to idyllic life off the grid and takes an interest in the villagers and their health issues, in the process regaining his medical ethics and self respect. But renewed ethics and healed self respect also cause him to—you guessed it—decide to make good with the gangsters from whom he stole. Why? Because he can never be free unless he does, and so forth. The fool. He could have just mailed the money back, but no—he had to face them for the sake of his own integrity. Sometimes you need someone to tell you you're going down the wrong road, but that technology wouldn't show up for many decades. In the end One Way Street, despite its talented cast, is lightweight, unimpressive, and has an ending meant to shock with irony, but which merely comes across as lazy. We can't recommend it. It premiered today in 1950.
There are lots of ways to enter and no way to leave.
Sam Peffer painted this beautiful cover for The Trapped Ones by Louis Charbonneau, originally published in 1959 as Night of Violence, with this renamed edition from Digit appearing in 1963. Either title works. The characters are trapped, and it's violent. The location: a motel in nowheresville New Mexico. The violence: a mob guy who's stolen $50,000 and whose pursuers catch up to him right when he stops for a rest. How to solve the problem? Taking a few hostages might work. The other characters include the studly owner, the beautiful best girl, the ex-wife, the hateful couple, the confirmed coward, the dangerously precocious daughter who's mistaken the secretive criminal for her favorite singer, and the minor league pitcher-turned-hitman eager to throw his “fastball”—i.e. a hand grenade. Personal demons come to the fore, seduction has a cost, the premises become a battleground, people get shot, and that grenade explodes. The book is well written, if a little melodramatic. Certainly it's in the upper half of the quality curve for mid-century thrillers. We'll be back, Charbonneau.
What's being stolen? A previous movie's most successful ideas.
Every Hollywood star has that brief moment when they're invincible at the box office, but it seems as if Robert Mitchum, more than most others, was a guy who maintained his power for many years. When The Big Steal came out he'd already run the gauntlet of a drug bust, jail time, and the public repentance circuit, and seemed to emerge unscathed. The executive brains at RKO decided to match teflon Rob with Jane Greer in an attempt to replicate the pair's runaway success in the film noir monument Out of the Past. This time the studio went for a lot of banter and not much in the way noir style, as Mitchum plays an army lieutenant accused of a payroll robbery who pursues the real thief Patric Knowles through Mexico. Greer plays Knowles' fiancée, who he cold-heartedly divested of two-thousand bucks, because thieves are just a little more pragmatic than they are romantic.
The movie is fueled by that Mitchum/Greer chemistry, plus high speeds, resort wardrobe, wry looks, and the Out of the Past memories of movie audiences. Greer brandishes a gun again, just as in that seminal sequence in Out of the Past. Mitchum has a desperate fistfight, just as in Out of the Past. All of this retreading is supported by visually helpful location shooting in Veracruz and other areas of Mexico. The end result is a pleasant little chase film that's even comical at times. Or maybe the laughs came from our dark senses of humor. For example, you know how car pursuits sometimes go right through flocks of chickens, but the chickens never get hurt? In this movie one actually gets run over—at least if the numerous feathers drifting in the car's wake were any indication. That really amused us. Also nearly flattened were goats, a few cows, mules, children, and middle-aged ladies. In fact, all the near misses felt like a running gag about how Americans are always in a hurry.
Other aspects of the movie are equally tongue-in-cheek, including Mitchum's ugly-American stabs at Spanish, but however lightweight this is at times, in the end it's still categorized as a thriller, which means it needs to make pulses race. We wouldn't say it fully achieves that requirement, but it isn't bad either. Mitchum gonna Mitchum, and that's all a studio needed at this moment in time to make a movie work. He'd go on to headline Where Danger Lives, Angel Face, and a long string of good-to-middling dramas and noirs, all the way up to his other cinematic monuments, 1955's The Night of the Hunter and 1962's Cape Fear. The Big Steal is an okay flick, but its true value may be that it shows what the Mitchum charm can do for material that doesn't even deserve him. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.
Some people just can't say no.
Above is an alternate cover for N.R. de Mexico's classic drug sleaze novel Marijuana Girl, a surprisingly good tale of addiction and redemption we wrote about last year. That edition was from Uni Books and had a photo cover. This Beacon edition has a nice painted cover, which is signed but illegible. Have any idea whose signature this is below? Drop us a line. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1966—LSD Declared Illegal in U.S.
LSD, which was originally synthesized by a Swiss doctor and was later secretly used by the CIA on military personnel, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and members of the general public in a project code named MKULTRA, is designated a controlled substance in the United States.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
It's easy. We have an uploader that makes it a snap. Use it to submit your art, text, header, and subhead. Your post can be funny, serious, or anything in between, as long as it's vintage pulp. You'll get a byline and experience the fleeting pride of free authorship. We'll edit your post for typos, but the rest is up to you. Click here
to give us your best shot.