Vintage Pulp Apr 9 2024
WORTH THE PRICE
Vince waxes philosophical and discovers the secret of life—death.


House of Wax, which was produced by Warner Brothers and premiered today in 1953, was the first 3D production by any major studio. It's a period piece set in Victorian New York City starring Vincent Price as the creator and half owner of a historical wax museum. Unfortunately, his focus on history leaves the public nonplussed, and his partner Roy Roberts, who needs capital, sets the place aflame for the insurance money. Price is burned and driven insane. Well, actually he was insane before the fire, but in a cute way. He talked to his wax figures and thought they talked back.

But after the fire he's a barking psychopath, running around nighttime Gotham behatted and cloaked like Lamont Cranston. His goal? Revenge, of course, a craving solved early in the proceedings when he pitches Roberts down an elevator shaft with a rope around his neck. But what next? What does one do once vengeance is thine? Well, you build a new wax museum, except this time you surrender to prurient tastes and create displays of modern murder and the macabre. Screw that high-minded history crap.

Everything goes fine until Phyllis Kirk begins to suspect that the extraordinary realism of the wax figures is due to more than just artistic talent. Her suspicion is a screenwriter's concoction—there's no way a person could realistically make the leap Kirk does in believing Price guilty of heinous crimes. The script literally calls it a woman's intuition. Well, okay. But in our experience that's a myth, and it's possibly even insulting when used as substitute for intelligence, so maybe just put a realistic clue in the script and write Kirk's character as very smart instead. In any case, she's definitely nosy as hell, and that's the beginning of the end for vicious Vince.

House of Wax has many things going for it. The sets and costumes are extravagant, the early fire sequence with its melting wax figures is genuinely unsettling, the WarnerColor developing process is attractive, and the acting is uniformly competent, even by that six-foot three-inch Hillshire Farms ham Price. And it's fun to watch Charles Buchinsky, aka Charles Bronson, as the mute assistant Igor. In the end the House of Wax works. Add popcorn, a few friends, and about of case of beer and you'll have a great Saturday night.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 22 2024
BEYOND A REASONABLE DEBT
This ain't Happy Days and he ain't the Fonz.


Since reading William R. Cox's 1961 thriller Death Comes Early we'd been looking around for more from him and located 1958's Hell To Pay, which you see above with a Robert Schulz cover. Cox writes in that same cool style we noted before, as he combines two crime sub-genres—organized crime, and juvenile delinquency. His main character Tom Kincaid is a successful NYC gambler who gets swept up in a mafia takeover centered around crooked boxing. Kincaid is thought by a kingpin named Mosski to be working for an upstart mob, which essentially makes this a find-the-real-killer novel in the sense that if Kincaid can't prove he isn't setting up Mosski his ass is grass. The book has in abundance generation gap musings, shady mingling between criminals and cops, poker described in hand-by-hand detail, and a lot of shooting and/or brutal beatings. Cox provides several good secondary characters, particularly Kincaid's been-around-the-block girlfriend Jean Harper. She's flawed, but then so is everyone here. There's a sequel to Hell To Pay, and we're onto that already.
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Vintage Pulp Feb 17 2024
ENTER THE SUPERDRAGON
The name's Cooper. Brian Cooper. What—you were expecting some other secret agent?


The Italian spy thriller New York chiama Superdrago, which we had a chance to watch during our little break last week, was known in English as Secret Agent Super Dragon, and is another in a spate of hipster spy movies that came in the wake of James Bond's massive cinematic success. It premeired in Italy today in 1966. Three of its promo posters were painted by the great Sandro Symeoni, and while the above example is also attributed to him on some websites, that's incorrect. It's really by Enrico de Seta. Or said to be by one long-running online poster vendor. We're not actually sure about that because the signature doesn't look like his, but who are we to argue with the experts?

In the film, Ray Danton plays a retired agent codenamed Super Dragon—civilian name Brian Cooper—who's roused from his yogic meditations and drawn back into the spy game when a friend dies in a suspicious auto accident that may be related to previous strange deaths. The clues lead from a U.S. college town to Amsterdam (because what kind of spy movie would it be without some globetrotting?), and into the lissome arms of fellow spies Margaret Lee and Marisa Mell (because what kind of spy movie would it be without hotties à la carte?). Between romances Danton learns that the plot revolves around the untraceable drug synchron-2. Purpose: unknown (but don't be shocked if it's to do with world domination).

Few of these Bond knock-offs are sufficiently budgeted or technically proficient enough to result in good final products. Whether you like them has to do with nebulous factors. In this case, we thought Danton's unctious self-entitlement and blasé approach to world saving were funny. We loved when one of his many assailants swallowed cyanide, Danton said, “I'd better get rid of him,” then dumped the corpse out the nearest window. Cue sound effect of splashing water. New York chiama Superdrago is a bit camp without being a satire, and just poorly written enough to provide a few laughs without being a total screenwriting train wreck. But don't pretend we said it's actually good.
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Vintage Pulp Feb 1 2024
HEALTH FREAK
If you don't mind, let's stop for a moment so I can call in a nurse. I'm into threesomes.

More sleaze from Beacon-Signal, this time in the medical sub-genre, with Elaine Dorian's, aka Isabel Moore's 1962 effort The Sex Cure. We last saw her when we read her 1961 novel Love Now Pay Later, which was marketed as sleaze but was actually rather ambitious. There's more deceptive marketing here. The Sex Cure has a certain amount of eroticism, but what you mainly get is the serious tale of a philandering doctor trying to change his ways after his latest girlfriend almost dies from an illegal abortion.

This is not, strictly speaking, entirely the doctor's fault. He'd given his girlfriend money and sent her to a reliable practitioner, but she'd kept most of the cash, went cheap on the procedure, and it cost her. To the doc's dismay, because she'd had to speak to police about the incident, his name is out and his reputation is ruined. There's more to the book, as well as numerous characters and subplots, but is it worth reading? Well, as a pure drama it's nothing special, and it isn't erotic enough to be sleaze, so we can't recommend it.

However, it does have an interesting backstory. Apparently it was based on actual goings-on in Cooperstown, New York. The story goes that when Dorian moved there in 1961 the locals learned or already knew that she was a novelist, and in their zeal to cozy up to a local celebrity passed along the town's gossip. Dorian repackaged much of what she heard into The Sex Cure, and when the townspeople got wind of the novel's contents they were displeased. You can read the entire story at New York Magazine here.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 20 2024
CASES IN POINT
Times change but crimes stay the same.


Above: the cover and selected interior scans from an issue of Complete Detective Cases that appeared on newsstands seventy-six years ago, in January 1947. The magazine was published quarterly by Postal Publications and based in New York City and Chicago. A reading of the stories shows how little we've changed in that long span of time: a man is murdered and dumped in a river, cops get cruel to capture a man who killed one of their own, adultery leads to a savage killing, and a cabbie is senselessly shot in the stomach though he's unarmed and acquiescent. The cover story deals with Sherry Borden, who authors an autobiographical tale of descent into serial robbery. The art in Complete Detective Cases is posed by professional models. You can see more examples of these sort of publications by clicking the keywords “true crime magazine” below.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 23 2023
CITY HEAT
Temperatures rise and tempers fray in Ard thriller.


We've been searching for everything we can find by William Ard because his books have been consistently good. This Popular Library edition of 1955's Hell Is a City has George Mayers cover art. We dove right into it, and the narrative (which is unrelated to the movie of the same name) focuses again on Ard's NYC private investigator Timothy Dane, who this time tries to prove that a slam-dunk murder charge is a frame put together by a predatory cop.

Ard reveals this in chapter one, when young Jamie Colyero, barely more than a boy, shoots the cop who tries to rape his sister Rita. The cop had been after her for weeks, and finally plants heroin on Jamie, engineers an arrest, then tells Rita the charges can possibly dropped if she meets him at a hotel and gives up her goodies. Out of desperation to help her brother, she agrees.

Unbeknownst to her, she's followed to the hotel by her brother, who's out on bail, and Jamie kicks in the door and ruins the cop's plan—lethally. Dane is in the picture shortly thereafter, working for a newspaper editor who wants to expose the lies of a rival sheet that has used its pages to turn the dirty cop into a saint. All of this will swing the next mayoral election, so the stakes are as high as can be.

Long story short, the book is great. Like other Ard tales it moves exceedingly fast for a piece of vintage fiction, racing through numerous twists and scrapes, with intermittent bursts of action, until it reaches a conclusion that shakes the city to its foundations and leaves readers satisfied. If you enjoy 1950s crime novels, read anything by Ard. You won't regret it.
 
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Vintage Pulp Nov 11 2023
JUST DIAL P
She's always there when you need her, but who's there for her?


For years we've been eyeing this awesome promotional poster for the Anne Francis prostitution drama Girl of the Night and always meant to get around to watching the movie. Mission accomplished, finally. The film premiered today in 1960 and was based on The Call Girl, a bestselling book by psychologist Harold Greenwald that began as a doctoral dissertation about prostitutes. We gather it focused on the rationalizations women used to distance themselves from or compartmentalize the work. We wonder if it's outdated by now, but at the time the book was a sensation.

Francis plays Bobbie Williams, a call girl whose bad night causes her to begin talking with a therapist in her building. The movie takes the form of a couch confessional with flashbacks, as we learn about Francis's circumstances, and particularly about the two people—basically a pimp and madame—who conned her into the racket. As the therapy progresses we learn more about her past, including the delivery man who—this part is obviously vague considering the time period—either molested or raped her when she was a child.

With help maybe Francis can break loose from her cage, but it won't be easy. She's emotionally dependent on her pimp, and because she has no job skills freedom looks like another form of imprisonment. We thought all of this was pretty well done. Make no mistake—this movie is a melodrama, but it kept us interested, and that's entirely to the credit of Francis. She's best known these days for her virginal turn in 1956's Forbidden Planet, but she had range, and shows it as the burned out prostitute at the center of the film. For her performance alone, we recommend Girl of the Night.
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Vintage Pulp Sep 29 2023
UNCIVILIZED BEHAVIOR
He kills completely without reservation.


Noel Clad was a promising writer who died in a plane crash when he was thirty-seven. His novel The Savage shows some of that promise. It's about a professional killer named John Tree who's been summoned from his Wyoming ranch by the Chicago syndicate to go to New York City and dispose of an S. Harris. Like many fictional killers Tree has a code: he doesn't kill women. When he arrives in New York he learns that S. Harris is Susan Harris, which dismays him. Then the person who's bought the contract and is calling the shots tells Tree to rape Susan before killing her. Next he finds out she's a single mother with a mute five year-old son. None of it sits well with Tree, but it doesn't cause him to flip sides. He just wants out. He asks to be replaced on the job and be done with the situation. Out of sight, out of mind. His employers agree and send two replacement hired guns to do the job. Tree meets with them and realizes they have no ethics—they will rape their target, and they'll murder her son too.

There are hundreds if not thousands of regular mob hitmen in literature and cinema, so why not do something different? It shouldn't be a controversial idea, but sadly, so many these days consider it to be an assault on territory they own somehow. But diversification isn't a new thing. Clever writers have been doing it all along. Clad does it in The Savage. The killer for hire, the anti-hero John Tree, is full name John Running Tree, member of the Shoshone tribe, Native American by both blood and culture. That simple change takes the book in a different direction than other hitman tales. Here we have a killer who hates to think about his impoverished youth on a reservation, who glorifies Native American tests of manhood, and who sees a stripper wearing a tribal headdress as a prop and is angered. You get interesting passages like this:

Being here made him think of religion and how little he knew and the things that had passed for it when he was little: the spirits and the half-reverent amulets and charms. He remembered as he had not for years the lupine tea they drank for Manhood, remembered the girls on the Station eating mushrooms to see if my true love lies, and his own watching of wood smoke that twisted north when the hunting would be good. Even Tall Kite had no longer really believed in the thousand tribal spirits of the upland and the plain, the grass, the insects, the deer and the hawk. And God, in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was no more than the price of chocolate milk. But in this hall, he had a pleasant feeling, relaxed, as though he was on a mountain all by himself.

1958 this was written, with loads of identity angst, as if it were published yesterday. John Running Tree moves like a folkloric wraith through New York City and tries to prevent Susan's defilement and death. The transgressiveness of the rape angle surprised us, as did the plot point that Tree kills by wire garrotte (not rope, as shown on the cover), but those added to the stakes of a harrowing and austere tale. Are there negatives? A few. Clad loses his tight control over the narrative from the moment Susan realizes—as she must—that Tree isn't just a nice guy hanging about for fun. Clad later forces the usage of Shoshone pictograms into a scene where the child mutely communicates an important clue. It might have worked under the right conditions, but in this case defied credulity. Other authorial errors accrue. Even so, good book. We'd read Clad again.
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Vintage Pulp Sep 28 2023
LAW AND THE JUNGLE
Human nature at its most savage.


This busy promo poster was made by Allied Artists for its drama The Human Jungle, which starred Gary Merrill as a tough cop who tries to whip his Jefferson Heights precinct into shape, both inside and outside the station house. Merill would rather transition out of police work and into the legal profession, but when he's tapped to cleanse the Heights he goes at it with a vengeance. His obstacles include lazy cops, emboldened delinquents, a hostile press, and a set of hardened criminals who feel impervious. Jan Sterling co-stars as a singer and dancer who might hold the key to putting a murderer behind bars. But Merrill will have to turn her first, and she's unwilling, to say the least.

For some people, the hardball tactics used by Merrill might bring to mind all the unlawful force settlements police departments nationwide constantly pay, because innocent people are always caught up in such crusades. For example, New York City paid out $143.2 million in civil rights damages in 2022, this despite the fact that prosecutors refuse to bring charges in about 95% of filed claims. But old movies avoid such sticky issues, and because they operated under censorship rules it's only criminals that hurt people, and Merrill comes out glorified and vindicated.

Add it up and what you get is an unoriginal and one-dimensional police drama that in this day and age feels greatly out of touch. Is there any reason at all to watch it? Maybe. It's pretty well made. It features young Chuck Connors as a heavy. It tries to mix in homelife strife in the form of Paula Raymond as Merrill's wife, and is reasonably successful on that front. The always interesting Sterling does a fun song and dance number that adds a little pep to the middle of the film. And there's a decent climax set in a brewery. Everything else in The Human Jungle is pretty limp. It premiered today in 1954.
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Vintage Pulp Sep 16 2023
A WORLDLY WOMAN
Gemser travels to many distant cities, and meets the worst people in every one of them.


To say that Laura Gemser's Emanuelle films are hit and miss is an understatement of epic proportions. While early entries have the happy softcore feel needed for thought-free diversion and occasional boners, later offerings veer into dark territory. Emanuelle - Perché violenza alle donne? is in the latter category. An Italian production, the title translates as “Emanuelle - Why violence against women?” Erotic cinema and social commentary don't usually mix well—not because they're mutually exclusive, but because the filmmakers never have the skill to pull it off. In the U.S. the movie was retitled Emanuelle Around the World, which sounds fine, but its international English title was changed to The Degradation of Emanuelle. Uh oh.

Gemser's adventures begin in San Francisco when her New York based photo-journalist character enjoys a satisfying boning in the back of a truck. But soon she's off on her next assignment, a titillating expose of a Kama Sutra commune in Asia. Once there she meets creepy guru George Eastman and uses her superior sexual skills to make his holiness transcendentally ejaculate too fast. Up to this point Perché violenza alle donne? is somewhat fun. But next Gemser meets up with pal Karin Schubert in Rome and joins an assignment to expose a sexual slavery ring. Wait—didn't she do that in Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade? Yup, but slavers never quit. This collection of bad men are unusually horrible. One is is a burn victim who rapes his captives. Another has a penchant for bestiality.

Obviously, during the 1970s filmmakers didn't really understand the idea of unintentionally minimizing serious subject matter the same way they do today. It was the “what-the-fuck-let's-give-it-a-try” era, and taking such risks produced some of the greatest cinema ever. But in this case writer/director Joe D'Amato and co-writers Maria Pia Fusco and Gianfranco Clerici failed. Badly. A movie on the subject of slavery and rape would be unpleasant but important if it were a Claire Denis drama or a Laura Poitras documentary. Mixing it into a flyweight sex film doesn't add dramatic weight—it adds discordance, embarrassment, and insult. It was a total miscalculation. You could potentially watch the film until Gemser departs the Kama Sutra commune, then turn it off. If you don't, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

However, we try to see the good in every movie we screen, so we should note that there are some high points. We'll list them. The Emanuelle films were typically shot in exotic locales, and in this case not only does D'Amato set scenes in New York City and San Francisco, but in Kathmandu, Rome, Hong Kong, and—for real—Teheran. Gemser is a limited actress, but one who always does her best with preposterous scripting. Schubert is a stolid co-star. Underutilized Don Powell is always a welcome sight. And lastly, many of the production photos, some of which appear below, are interesting. That's about all the good we can find. We'll just slide Emanuelle - Perché violenza alle donne? into ye olde metaphorical trash bin and forget it ever happened. It premiered in Italy today in 1977.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 12
1945—Franklin Roosevelt Dies
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies of a cerebral hemorrhage while sitting for a portrait in the White House. After a White House funeral on April 14, Roosevelt's body is transported by train to his hometown of Hyde Park, New York, and on April 15 he is buried in the rose garden of the Roosevelt family home.
April 11
1916—Richard Harding Davis Dies
American journalist, playwright, and author Richard Harding Davis dies of a heart attack at home in Philadelphia. Not widely known now, Davis was one of the most important and influential war correspondents ever, establishing his reputation by reporting on the Spanish-American War, the Second Boer War, and World War I, as well as his general travels to exotic lands.
April 10
1919—Zapata Is Killed
In Mexico, revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata is shot dead by government forces in the state of Morelos, after a carefully planned ambush. Following the killing, Zapata's revolutionary movement and his Liberation Army of the South slowly fall apart, but his political influence lasts in Mexico to the present day.
1925—Great Gatsby Is Published
F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby is published in New York City by Charles Scribner's Sons. Though Gatsby is Fitzgerald's best known book today, it was not a success upon publication, and at the time of his death in 1940, Fitzgerald was mostly forgotten as a writer and considered himself to be a failure.
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