You never know when your time is up. Usually.
Above: Veronica Lake stars in a menacing promo photo made for her 1944 spy movie The Hour Before Dawn. She plays a pure femme fatale, a bad woman living in London as a double agent in the employ of the Third Reich. The movie was poorly reviewed, but we give this image five stars.
Proceed with caution—Nazi crossing.
Marjorie Reynolds gives her best transfixed look in this promo image made for her 1944 film noir Ministry of Fear. The swastika leaves no doubt who the villains are. They take over a New York City brownstone and use it as a base of operations for various dastardly doings. The film is uneven despite being helmed by the legendary Fritz Lang. Reynolds, who also acted under her real name Marjorie Goodspeed, as well as Marjorie Moore, appeared in dozens of movies but wasn't quite what you'd call a star. Her signature moment probably came when she sang the song, “White Christmas,” in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. She performed it twice—once solo, and once as a duet with Bing Crosby. She didn't appear in many crime movies or thrillers, so we probably won't see her here again, but this is quite a shot to go out on. You can read what we wrote about Ministry of Fear here.
Swiss bank receives long deserved exposure thanks to data leak.
We're occasionally asked why we don't do modern true crime write-ups as often as we once did. There are a couple of reasons. We actually have jobs, and the research on crime stories is time consuming. But secondly, modern day swindles, scams, and corruption are out of control to the extent that writing about them seems redundant. But we're making an exception today because one of our previous subjects, who we wrote about way back in 2009, has popped up in the news again. That would be Hisham Talaat Moustafa, who was sentenced to death for hiring out the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim. His was one of thousands of names just revealed in a massive financial data leak from Credit Suisse, one of the most prestigious banks in Switzerland, which hides money for the richest people in the world. We think everyone knows Swiss banks are corrupt, right? Their first secrecy laws were adopted in 1713. It's safe to say they've been corrupt for almost that long. Over the years Credit Suisse's clients have included Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, who stole $10 billion from the Philippine treasury, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Panamanian drug lord and CIA informant Manuel Noriega, thousands of Nazis who were hiding their expropriations, and countless shady shell companies. One can insert the usual objections about taxes here, but the point is that regularpeople must pay them, yet the rich and powerful somehow always manage to avoid their fair share, even when they've generated their loot through illegal or even genocidal means. As with many morally rudderless institutions and people, what Swiss banks do is perfectly legal, but “perfectly legal” is the phrase uttered by people who know they're willfully engaged in behavior that obviously should be illegal—and in fact is illegal for everyone but the rich and connected.
Credit Suisse is trying to pretend that the leak reveals old accounts from before the bank cleaned up its practices (which it never substantially did), but the spin won't be effective because the data reveals that the bank is currently holding money for human traffickers, drug lords, oligarchs, stock cheats, treasury looters, mafia kingpins and—in the case of Hisham Moustafa—murderers. Correction—pardoned murderers, since he was released thanks to presidential decree in 2017. The information on all this corruption was originally passed to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung via an anonymous whistleblower, and the odds are good that in a matter of weeks or months that currently unknown person will be outed and have to make a full time job of trying to avoid the total destruction of his or her life and a prison sentence—no pardon pending.
Tax and corruption problems have exploded globally as elite greed has grown, the profits from criminality have soared, digital technology has created previously-unheard-of fortunes, offshoring of profits has become standard practice, deregulation and the de-facto dissolving of anti-trust laws have allowed corporations to grow more powerful than countries, and austerity has shrunk or eliminated the enforcement mechanisms of public institutions. In fact, in addition to funneling money from regular people to corporations and the rich, the other point of austerity is to shrink government to prevent it prying into the affairs of corporations and the rich. Libertarians rejoice. Insider trading, commodities fraud, and money laundering are all now rampant, and there's nothing people can do about it because the government institutions meant to be centers of oversight were taken over by the rich decades ago.
Moustafa paid to have his girlfriend knifed to death. Unlike murderers able to hide behind the fig leaf of non-conviction, his guilt was established as a fact during a criminal court proceeding. He was sentenced to hanging but was retried and had his punishment reduced to a mere fifteen years. He spent, in total before his pardon, nine years in a country club prison, and all the while managed his wealth, built up his billions, andcame out of jail not disgraced and shunned, but welcomed, feted, and once again demanding and receiving VIP treatment, the best tables in the best restaurants, and the ear of the global elite. He threw a few coins to charity along the way to spit-shine his reputation, had his thriving conglomerate Talaat Moustafa Group donate some COVID vaccines, but still he's a murderer who wriggled loose from the hangman's noose, and today enjoys every privilege he ever enjoyed—while his victim is dead forever.
This is the place in which we find ourselves. We all understand, if we actually absorb factual information rather than apologist propaganda or fanciful myth, that the rich have fucked up this world, and the rest of us, as well as future generations, are going to pay to clean up the mess. If it can even be cleaned up, which is doubtful. And that's why we stopped writing about modern crime and corruption. It's pointless. It's banal. Writing about old crimes is an escape, a window into history and the mad hearts of men and women who are long, long gone. Writing about current crimes is self-flagellation. We'll still do it on occasion when the urge strikes, like today, but we're well aware that people tend to complain more as time goes by and we don't want to fall into that trap. We want Pulp Intl. to be a place of entertainment and wonder—by which we mean amazing art, exciting fiction, bizarre historical and Hollywood facts, and beautiful women.
The king of tabloids sets its sights on the Queen of Greece.
Every month when Confidential magazine hit newsstands, we imagine Hollywood celebrities receiving the bad news that they'd made the cover, and going, “Shit.” This issue published in January 1964 features Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Frank Sinatra, and Jill St. John. The first three members of that group probably took the news in stride, since they were all tabloid staples by then. St. John wasn't quite at their level, but her links with Sinatra kept her in the scandal sheets for a while too.
A person who wasn't used to Confidential's attentions was Frederica of Hanover, who at the time was Queen Consort of Greece—which is just a fancy way of saying she was married to the King of Greece. Confidential says she was a Nazi, a pretty serious charge, needless to say. Was she? Well, her grandfather was Kaiser Wilhelm II, as a girl she was a member of Bund Deutscher Mädel, which was a branch of the Hitler Youth, and she had brothers in the SS. Also, back in 1934 Adolf Hitler wanted to link the British and German royal houses, and tried to pressure Frederica's parents into arranging for the seventeen-year-old girl to marry the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII. And as Queen Consort she made a habit of meddling in Greek politics in ways that made clear she was not a fan of democracy. None of that is a particularly good look.
She had defenders, though, who believed that for a person in her position it would have been impossible not to have been a member of certain groups and to have socialized with Nazis. It's interesting, isn't it, how the rich and powerful always benefit from a special set of excuses? People can't really expect her to have made a stand, can they? But the excuse is hollow. As a high ranking royal she could have avoided anything she wished. Membership in organizations when she was a little girl is one thing, but as an adult she could have denounced Nazism with damage to her reputation the only potential result. A damaged reputation is no small thing, but if we expect resistance from people who'd have been imprisoned or shot for doing so, we should probably expect the same from people who would have suffered mostly dirty looks.
Confidential focuses on Frederica's July 1963 visit to England. The visit was no big surprise—Frederica, her husband King Paul of Greece, Queen Elizabeth, and her husband Prince Philip, were all related. They were all direct descendants of Queen Victoria. Monarchy is a funny thing, isn't it? The visit triggered a protest of about three thousand British leftists that was violently broken up by five thousand police. The protestors carried banners that said, “Down with the Nazi Queen.” After mentioning this fiasco, Confidential delves into Frederica's history, some of which we've outlined above, then loops back to the protests, which she blamed on the British press. But she had already reached a level of notoriety that usually brought out protestors who loudly booed her, particularly in Greece. She eventually retreated from public life, became a Buddhist, and died early at age sixty-three.
Confidential's unexpected exposé on Frederica wasn't out of character for the magazine. It was the top tabloid dog in a very large kennel. It had an expansive staff, serious reporters, hundreds of informers spread across the U.S. and Britain, and published stories about heavy hitters from all sectors of society. It had a regressive political agenda, as its article filled with terrible slander against gays and lesbians makes clear, but even with its rightward slant it took pains to keep its reporting framework factual. That makes it a priceless source of contemporaneous info about public figures, particularly of the Hollywood variety. We doubt we'll ever stop buying it, because we never know who we'll find inside. Twenty-plus scans below.
Thanks for rescuing me. Don't untie me yet, though. First let me tell you about this kinky fantasy I've always had.
George Harmon Coxe's Murder in Havana was an easy buy for us—it was cheap and set in an exotic land. We were also drawn by its World War II backdrop, which made us fully expect Nazis, and we got them. The story concerns Andrew Talbot, who's in charge of a secret shipbuilding project. While he's out on the town someone breaks into his hotel room but somehow ends up dead five floors below. Talbot is relieved not to have been robbed of his top secret dox, but once he realizes the dead man hadn't been the only person in his room and his papers were photographed rather than stolen, he sets out to save his professional reputation and unmask the spies.
As required from this sort of tale, the hero meets a couple of beautiful women, interfaces fractiously with the local cops, gets knocked over the head, and drinks rum. Mysteries from this era can be wordy, but Coxe deserves credit—he keeps the action moving around Havana and avoids the pointless reiterations that can slow these books. The ending is fun, and multi-layered. There could be more local color and travelogue, and we aren't sure if we accept the idea of skeleton keys being purchaseable on the street, but overall Murder in Havana is quite entertaining. It was published in 1943 originally, with this Dell edition and its Barye Phillips cover art of a woman bound but incongruously smiling coming in 1950.
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?
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
1916—Einstein Publishes General Relativity
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity. Among the effects of the theory are phenomena such as the curvature of space-time, the bending of rays of light in gravitational fields, faster than light universe expansion, and the warping of space time around a rotating body.
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