Dance? This jukebox plays only the collected speeches of Harry S. Truman and if you don't like it there's the damn door.
We had a few different ways we could have gone with the music in this jukebox. Austro-Hungarian military marches. Hawaiian ukulele classics. Bavarian beerhall oompah. Even the soothing sounds of cicadas and crickets. We had options. But as far as the actual book goes, James Ross's They Don't Dance Much deals with misadventures in and around a North Carolina roadhouse. You know the drill: guy takes a job but the job almost takes him. Basically, a destitute Depression-era farmer scores employment at a just-opened roadhouse, but when the owner becomes financially overextended, he conceives of desperate measures to obtain cash—namely robbing a friend rumored to have $20,000 buried on his land.
Burying money might not make sense to some. Stop us if you know this, but back during the Depression if a bank went under the customers generally lost their deposits. Those who went broke were often ridiculed for not being savvy enough concerning the bank's fiscal health. Today we call that victim blaming. It was only when the U.S. government took the evil socialistic step of guaranteeing deposits that people's life savings became safe. Thank you, Mr. Roosevelt. But the point is, burying a fortune on one's own land is not an outlandish plot device. And considering how modern banks have devolved into robbery franchises, we're almost ready to consider it ourselves. Please don't e-mail asking for our address.
Anyway, stealing the money turns out to be doable, though not pleasant, for our farmer-bandit, but everything after that is—shockingly—a country fried clusterfuck. This is our first James Ross book and we were pretty satisfied. It feels like something that could have inspired Blood Simple. As a novel set in the south it has the usual pitfalls for those who don't want to be subjected to something like one hundred racial slurs, however there's no doubt the language is accurate for the place and time. We heard people speaking like that when we were last in North Carolina, and that was not terribly long ago. In any case, you've been warned. And lastly, the cover art is by Stanley Meltzoff, who we've featured only once before, here.
The Devil went down to Georgia looking for souls to steal.
We found a little piece of real world pulp and thought we'd share it because it relates to what we wrote last month about Sean's Penn's El Chapo interview. A news story yesterday revealed that in the U.S. forty-six current and former officers of the Georgia Department of Corrections were arrested for running a drugs and contraband ring in prisons around the state. Yup, you read that right—forty-six officers. These cops and guards facilitated cocaine and meth deals both inside and outside of prison, and smuggled liquor, tobacco and cell phones inside in exchange for money. Convicts used the phones to commit wire fraud, money laundering, and identify theft. And we should point out that none of this is unique to Georgia. In 2014 a North Carolina convict orchestrated a kidnapping in Atlanta using a contraband cell phone.
In our Sean Penn piece we quoted Roberto Saviano, the internationally respected author and researcher, who has said the illegal drug trade has an influence on the global economy similar to that of oil or gold. That is to say, it's so lucrative international law is ignored, and people are killed by the thousands to keep the profits rolling in. The main difference is all the millions of dollars have to be cleaned in the legal financial system. But that's no problem. Several huge banks, including Wachovia and HSBC, have intentionally laundered drug money and gotten away with mere fines. Other huge institutions, such as Bank of America and J.P. Morgan, are known to have been used for money laundering but claim it all somehow happened without their knowledge.
To the FBI's credit, they're not treating this as a one-off. Special agent Britt Johnson, who you see above, hinted at wider problems, commenting at a news conference, “It makes a huge challenge for law enforcement. After you chase down, arrest, and prosecute criminals and put them away for life, they continue to direct crime on the streets from their jail cells.”
So what's the solution? Make the prisons even harsher? Legalize drugs? We have no idea. We're not suggesting that anyone have sympathy for the guards that got arrested, but you have to admit, when drug profits are so vast they corrupt entire third world political systems and entire first world banking systems, it's a lot to expect lowly prison guards not to try and join the party.
Like an Oreo cookie, the best part of Highway 301 is the stuff in the middle.
Though we can’t find much online about the making of the 1950 b-budget film noir Highway 301, we have a suspicion what happened during its production. The studio holding the purse strings, Warner Bros., had a look at the rough cut and said there’s no way we’re putting out a movie this intense. How intense is it? Influential New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it “a straight exercise in low sadism.” So what does a studio do when it has on its hands a movie it thinks is likely to bad vibe audiences right out of the cinema? Simple—tell the audiences before the movie starts how it’s going to end. Get three sitting state governors—W. Kerr Scott of North Carolina, John S. Battle of Virginia, and William P. Lane, Jr. of Maryland—to announce in a prologue that crime does not pay, and that every member of the Tri-State Gang depicted in the movie ended up dead, except for one, who ended up in prison. Was Warner Bros. really responsible for such a blatant mutilation of Highway 301? It’s a very good bet, simply because a screenwriter can’t write a script that counts on the participation of three state governors. But for Jack Warner, well, all it would have taken was a phone call to each.
If you pretend the hamfisted prologue never happened, what you end up watching is one of the most underrated and entertaining noirs ever filmed. There are two robberies, a few shootouts, and other action pieces, but the intensity in this film is supplied by its unflinching exploration of the vagaries of fate. Taking an elevator rather than the stairs, choosing to hide rather than run, heading for the back exit rather than the front—it’s decisions such as that determine the fortunes and misfortunes of the characters, and which gnaw at the nerves of an audience that knows which choice is right but can only watch events unfold. At the center of it all is Steve Cochran as the gang’s murderous leader, a guy who solves every problem with a gun. The supporting cast includes Virginia Grey, Gaby Andre, and Robert Webber, and all are good in their roles.
While we know the Tri-State Gang will lose in the end, there’s still plenty of suspense supplied by Gaby Andre’s predicament—she knows too much and the only reason she’s still alive is because Cochran thinks she’s beautiful. But the spell will soon wear off and at that point she’ll be just another dead witness—unless she can escape. Fate continues to intervene. Will it intercede on her behalf? Or against? We know not to anticipate her survival based on her status as the protagonist female. The body count has already told us movie convention is no refuge. That’s the genius of Highway 301—there’s no respite from tension. Every sigh of relief catches in the throat as peril mounts yet again.
Writer/director Andrew L. Stone deserves a lot of credit for putting this together. He was an experienced hand at this point, but never before had he created something so innovative. Highway 301 ends on a down note with more moralizing, but sandwiched in between is a highly recommendable drama. Flawed, yes, but only due to the intrusion of front office types, we suspect. A re-release without the moral parentheses and intermittent narration would elevate this to classic status. The poster at top is classic in its own right. It was painted by someone who signed it Aziz, and the Arabic script in the lower right corner confirms it was made for release in the Middle East or North Africa, most likely Egypt, but don’t quote us on that.
Something about that gal just makes him want to play with his wood.
We had completely forgotten about Fred Ross’s Jackson Mahaffey until we ran across this great cover. We read the book back when we first got into pulp literature. Our version was a Riverside Press hardback, but we wish we’d had this Bantam mass market paperback. Note the stick at crotch level and the masturbatory motion that would be required to whittle it. Also note the unsuspecting lass and the mixing bowl between her legs. As it turns out, though the book is indeed about a man trying to get his stick in a girl’s bowl, it’s also a very funny square peg/round hole story in a broader sense.
Published in 1951, with the paperback appearing a year later, Jackson Mahaffey is set in Prohibition era North Carolina, and is told in first person by the eponymous Jackson, an orphan who has grown up to be a master liar, consummate hustler, and inveterate horndog. When he catches a glimpse of beautiful Molly Burns, he decides he simply must have her, but in order to do so he must appear to be a respectable gentleman. Just a few of the things poor Jackson gives up to woo the girl: cussing, brawling, smoking, cock fighting, and drinking. Pretty tough makeover for a guy who manages the meanest fighting cock on the Rock River and carries brass knuckles and a pistol in his pocket, but he gives Southern gentility a go anyway, even though the subterfuge cannot possibly last.
When he inevitably falls off the wagon, the only way he can think of to get back into Molly’s good graces (and hopefully into her panties) is to run for state senator. It should be an impossible task for a rootless hick like Jackson, but it turns out that everything he’s learned during his years of double dealing and raising hell suddenly work to his advantage. This is politics, after all, and he’s uniquely equipped with malleable morals and lots of friends in low places. Filled with backwoods humor and Jackson’s particular brand of countrified wisdom, this one is well worth a read.
Score: Bigfoot—985, camera technology—0.
One of the most enduring mysteries of North America concerns the existence of the apelike creature Bigfoot. As of yet, none of the 985 reported sightings of the primate has produced conclusive evidence of its existence. And a video shot last week in North Carolina by a man named Thomas Byers isn’t going to be reversing that trend anytime soon. Byers claims he and a friend were driving along Highway 226 the evening of 22 March, when: “we both observed a large, upright, brown, furry animal between six and seven feet tall come up out of the field beside the road and then it ran across the road in front of the pick up truck we were in.” Byers claims he grabbed a videocamera and recorded the creature as it fled into the woods. Unfortunately, what he actually recorded was not the creature, but a blur that should have him checking to see whether the auto-focus on his camera is broken. You can see the recording here, if you’re inclined. You’ll notice that the creature doesn’t run—rather, it lopes in a way that doesn’t seem a very effective mode of locomotion for a famously elusive wild animal, but might be appropriate for either a toddler with a load in his pants or a hick wearing a novelty ape suit. We suspect the latter, which means we’re calling this sighting a prank. But we’ll keep hoping. And we know you will too.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
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