If he's German we're a couple of Midwestern turkey farmers.
Erhard von Sprecher, author of 1954's Les mains rouges, or “red hands,” is a pseudonym. Has to be, right? French mid-century policier and espionage authors loved pen names, so much so that few of the authors wrote under their real names. We're not sure why, but we suspect that they felt it gave their books credibility if they adopted American sounding names like Patrick Rock (Louis Valgrand), Jerry Lewray (Louis de la Hattais), Slim Harrisson (Jacques Dubessy), et al. In this case, the name von Sprecher was used to give this tale about an S.S. agent who refuses to admit the Third Reich lost World War II a sense of firsthand German reality, but he was almost certainly a French writer—though one so obscure there's no information out there. Maybe something will turn up later. In any case, we decided to feature this book not because of von Sprecher's name, interesting as that is, but because of the striking red hand art. And guess what? We can't find out who did that either. C'est comme cela que ça se passe.
Leave it to Nazis to turn phys ed from your favorite class into the worst experience of your life.
This cover of Male from this month in 1967 has cover art of history's worst gym class, painted by the great Mort Kunstler, and leave it to Nazis to ruin the one thing you can get a good grade in just by showing up. Another thing ruined is the magazine. When it arrived it turned out some pages were razored out of the center. Probably the most interesting pages. It's an occupational hazard, we suppose. We generally assume the seller had no idea, as these mags are so often the leftovers of fathers and grandfathers, but if it was in fact deliberate, well then, cocks on their house! That's the saying, right? Or it pox? Doesn't matter. The silver lining was that we didn't have to worry keeping the magazine intact while scanning. We just ripped it apart, which sort of felt good.
There's still plenty of interesting material inside this mutilated Male. There's fiction and fact, art from Gil Cohen and Bruce Minney, plus more from Kunstler, a screed against motorcycles, a lot of pro Vietnam War content, with lots of digs at peace activists and draft fugitives. The magazine works especially hard to convince readers that draftees who fled to Canada faced lives worse than if they'd gone to Southeast Asia. We doubt quite seriously that anything could be worse than dying in a hot jungle for no rational purpose 10,000 miles from home. But maybe we're biased—our fathers were war vets, and they had one wish in life: that the military never get its mitts on us. Also that we never do hard drugs. Well, one out of two isn't bad. Twenty scans below.
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.
All Through the Night is Bogart at his best.
There's no single movie that made Humphrey Bogart a superstar—he built his brand with each outing. But surely All Through the Night was one of his most important pre-icon roles. You see its Italian promo poster above, which was painted by the great artist Luigi Martinati. We've featured Martinati often, and you can see his work here and here. After originally opening in the U.S. in 1942, All Through the Night premiered in Italy as Sesta colonna today in 1949. You can read more about the film here.
In the Ministry of Fear they bake better than they spy.
Fritz Lang was one of the most important directors of his era, both in his native Germany and in the U.S., and was a pioneer of the film noir form. Movies like Scarlet Street and especially The Big Heat are essential noir viewing. Ministry of Fear dates from a bit earlier and finds Lang saddled with what we consider to be a substandard script that through sheer artistry he makes into a watchable film. Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, and Dan Duryea headline in a spy tale that revolves around Lang's favorite villains—the Nazis. Jewish and German, he left his homeland for Paris and beyond during the ascent of the Nazis during the 1930s, so the subject was personal for him, and was one he'd dealt with in previous films such as Cloak and Dagger and Hangmen Also Die.
In Ministry of Fear Milland plays a man who spends two years in a British asylum and is released at a time when World War II is raging and London is being bombed. He goes to a charity carnival and is enticed into guessing a cake's weight for a chance to win it, and because he's been given the correct answer by a fortuneteller, is victorious. But it's soon clear that the correct weight wasn't supposed to be given to him, and he isn't supposed to have won the cake. But he really wants it and resists attempts by the carny folks to take it back. He loses it during a train ride when a passenger beats the snot out of him for it, and at that point finally realizes the obvious—sweet though this confection may have been, it wasn't sought by various and sundry for its flavor, but because inside was something important. He wants answers, and he'll have to risk his neck to get them.
Generally with movies it's best to simply accept the premise, but there are limits. We were never clear on why it was necessary to put this important item in a cake. We understand subterfuge is involved in the spy game, but why not just hand the item over in an alley, or a pub bathroom, or a parked car? And if food must be involved, why a cake? Why not a haggis, or something else very few people want to just gobble up on the spot? A dried cod maybe. A blood sausage would have done. Plus they're easy to transport. You can just stick them in your pockets. And in a tight spot a whack across the nose with a blood sausage is far more effective than shoving cake in someone's mug. The cake gimmick was probably—strike that—certainly better explained in Graham Greene's source novel. We haven't read it but we're confident about that. It could have been Lang who screwed the pooch, but it was more likely Seton I. Miller. He was screenwriter as well as executive producer.
In any case Milland bumbles his way through a train trip, across a moor, in and out of a crazy séance, and into a maze of misdirection to the eventual revelation of what's inside the cake, but the whole time we kept thinking the movie should be called Ministry of Cut-Rate Spies. We don't mean to say it's a total loss. It isn't like the Eddie Izzard comedy routine, “Cake or Death.” You won't choose death over cake. But it's a pretty uninspiring flick. The old dramas that have survived have done so for a simple reason. Most of them are good. Ministry of Fear isn't bad. It's just meh. It's like a cake that fell—it's flat and dense, but teases you with how yummy it could have been. It premiered in England today in 1944.
Here, have your cake. And eat it too. Heh. I prefer blood sausage for train trips, but I guess it's better for you I'm not shoving one of those in your face, eh? Wow, you sort of... crush the shit out of your cake before eating it. Have I been eating cake wrong the whole time I've been in England?
Once upon a time in the Reich there was a sadist named Ilsa.
Ilsa la belva delle SS, as it was called in Italy, is better known as Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, and it's not hyperbole to describe this naziploitation effort as one of the most widely reviled movies ever released. And for good reason. It's significant as an example of just how out there and taboo shattering the sexploitation genre got during the 1970s. The poster was painted by Luciano Crovato, who produced a number of iconic movie promos, including the second and third pieces in this post. We'll get back to him. If you want to know more about Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS look here. If you dare.
Troublesome Nazis bring bad intentions to Mexico City.
The much beloved Santo movies may not be good, but you certainly can't complain about the promo posters. This winner was made for Santo en Anónimo mortal, aka Santo in Anonymous Death Threat, and it finds everyone's favorite luchador once again battling the forces of evil. This time he's called upon to help the latest in a line of men who've been sent anonymous notes informing them of the dates of their deaths. The previous recipients met nasty ends. The newest prospective victim doesn't trust the police to keep him alive, so he appeals to the only man that can truly do the job—Santo el enmascarado de plata. Santo rightly wonders what the connection is between all these men. But viewers don't have to wonder—it's right there on the poster.
Yes, Nazis have made their sneaky way to Mexico. And just to ram the point home fully, Santo coincidentally has a match against a wrestler named El Nazi, who mid-round is shot dead, becoming yet another victim. Santo soon learns that all the departed—even El Nazi, who must have adopted his moniker due to a keen sense of irony—were witnesses at the war crimes trial of a Third Reich death merchant named Paul von Struber. This von Struber was sentenced to hang, but escaped to Mexico City, where he took an assumed identity. Now he wants revenge on everyone who testified against him because— Well, that's hard to figure out. He really should just lay low, having evaded the hangman. But he's a Nazi. They specialize in terrible ideas.
By the time this film appeared Santo had already battled vampires, zombies, and witches. The producers of these potboilers went big early. Overloaded with crazy concepts, they even had Santo go up against a carnivorous blob. Nazis, then, aren't that big a deal. Santo doesn't even have to cut his wrestling schedule short. When the evil von Struber captures him and locks him away in the secret Nazi lair, he quickly manages to break his ropes, beat the shit out of the flunkies guarding him, and bring down El Cuarto Reich before it even has a chance to stick its head out of its bunker. It's good that Santo's triumph is so perfunctory, because this was his forty-somethingth adventure and his knees had to be getting balky. Santo en Anónimo mortal premiered in Mexico today in 1975.Wow, you're a big'un, aren't you? Ever considered pro wrestling? If you wanna meet up later I can teach you some submission holds. Obergruppenführer! I have a question!
Gestapo goes to extraordinary lengths to cancel a Czech.
This striking poster for Hangmen Also Die might make you think you're dealing with a death row film noir, but it's actually a war drama about the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. When a Czech assassin played by Brian Donlevy shoots the country's cruel German administrator Reinhard Heydrich and escapes into Prague's urban maze, the Nazis start executing people to force the population to turn over the shooter. As people die Donlevy struggles over whether to turn himself in. This was made in 1943 and qualifies as war propaganda, complete with flourishes such as discordant brass when Hitler's portrait appears onscreen, and a cheeseball closing song with a chorus of, “No surrender!” And to just bang the war drum even more, the movie premiered in, of all places, Prague, Oklahoma today in 1943, and the showing featured hanged effigies of Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini, while regional politicians made a point of attending. That must have been some night.
But while Hangmen Also Die may qualify as propaganda, it certainly isn't untrue in any major sense. The film's two architects, German director Fritz Lang and German writer Bertolt Brecht, both left their homeland to avoid the Nazis, and we can only imagine that their personal experiences made this project deeply important to them. But even people working from personal experience need help, and they get a major boost from co-star Walter Brennan. You'll sometimes read about him being a great character actor and this movie proves it. Watch him in this, then as the drunkard Eddie in To Have and Have Not, and you'll find him physically unrecognizable. Only his distinctive voice identifies him as the same person. Meanwhile it's Donlevy who's asked to personify the classic moral dilemma of sacrifice for the greater good, and he's mostly successful at portraying it as a heavy burden. While we wouldn't call Hangmen Also Die a great movie, there's no doubt it occupies its niche comfortably.
Sorry to disappoint you, but we're into each other.
Well no, Leonhard Frank's novella Desire Me isn't about two men in love, but we think it should be, based on the cover art. It's actually a story centered around a clever idea that has been borrowed often since it was first written by Frank in 1926 as the play Karl und Anna. Basically, two men in a prison camp have plenty of idle time to get to know each other. The married prisoner speaks in detail about his wife. When the unmarried one escapes, he seeks out the married one's wife and the two fall in love. Naturally the husband, who his pal had claimed was dead, eventually resurfaces in the town to complicate matters.
This prison identity theft concept is the basis or backstory of many movies, including The House on Telegraph Hill. Returning from presumed wartime death to ruin a wife's new love affair has also been used often, notably in Casablanca. Frank was considered a leading German writer, but his legacy was destroyed when his books were burned by the Nazis before World War II. He actually wrote about this later and noted that even though Hitler lost the war, he largely succeeded in altering Germany's literary history, because many of the authors whose works were burned never regained their former stature. Frank's is a cautionary example about censorship—governments do it because it works.
Donut makers learn something bitter about their past.
Interesting story out of the world of donuts/doughnuts this week, as the Reimann family, originators of Krispy Kreme, (which makes by far the best tasting confections in America), were given a little surprise, and not of the sweet variety. An article in the German tabloid Bild outed the family's ancestors as Nazis. The story is notable because these ancestors weren't just footsoldiers or dull functionaries typing forms in triplicate, but full blown Aryan racists who used slave labor in their business and amassed a huge fortune doing it (that may sound familiar to people on the U.S. side of the ocean, as well). Apparently the family used female Russian and French prisoners, who they beat, sexually abused, and made strip naked for inspections. In July 1937 Albert Reimann, Jr. wrote to SS leader and Holocaust architect Heinrich Himmler and stated that his business was “a purely Aryan family business that is over 100 years old.” He also wrote that, “The owners are unconditional followers of the race theory.”
Reimann, Jr., who you see below, passed much of his fortune along to nine adopted children, four of whom now retain shares of the Krispy Kreme empire. Amazingly, the topping on this tale is that the source of all the info appears to be an ancestry check the family itselfcommissioned on their father. Wealthy clans generally have a firm understanding of their own family tree, what with all the money involved and the potential for virtually anyone to come out of the woodwork claiming to be a twelfth cousin or granddaughter of a patriarch's mistress, but in the case of adoptive children, putting the entire puzzle together sometimes happens later in life or not at all. In any case, the Reimann family, which holds approximately $37 billion in assets, announced that it would give $11 million to charity, or about %0.0003 of the estimated family fortune. Hey, every little bit helps.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—Wilson Goes to Europe
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sails to Europe for the World War I peace talks in Versailles, France, becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.
1921—Arbuckle Manslaughter Trial Ends
In the U.S., a manslaughter trial against actor/director Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ends with the jury deadlocked as to whether he had killed aspiring actress Virginia Rappe during rape and sodomy. Arbuckle was finally cleared of all wrongdoing after two more trials, but the scandal ruined his career and personal life.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
1954—Joseph McCarthy Disciplined by Senate
In the United States, after standing idly by during years of communist witch hunts in Hollywood and beyond, the U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for conduct bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. The vote ruined McCarthy's career.
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