There's no jealousy like a femme fatale's jealousy.
It's amazing how much easier James M. Cain makes writing seem than scores of other authors. His 1950 novel Jealous Woman starts at a gallop. Here's the first line: At the desk, when they said she was in 819, I knew hubby or pappy or somebody was doing all right by their Jane, because 19 is the deluxe tier at the Washoe-Truckee, one of our best hotels here in Reno, and you don’t get space there for buttons. And just like that we're off. Cain gives readers ambitious insurance man Ed Horner of General Pan-Pacific Insurance of California. Horner lives, works, and parties in Reno, where unhappy marrieds migrate to be freed from their nuptial bonds. He gets involved in a complex divorce/annulment scheme between Jane Delavan, her rich husband, Jane's ex-husband, and his current wife. Yes, it's a bit complicated, but a messy murder uncomplicates it a little. At least for readers. For Horner, things get weird. Jealous Woman isn't Cain's best, but it's still a slice of devious fun worth reading, and this Ace version with John Vernon cover art is the edition to buy if you can.
Everything out there wants to kill you—including the people.
We've shown you many magazines and books on the subject of headhunters (check here and here for our absolute favorites). Mid-century interest in the subject made its way to the silver screen more than once, in this case with Jivaro, which premiered today in 1954. The title references hunter-gatherer cultures centered in the northwestern Amazon rainforest across Ecuador and Peru who shrank human heads for ceremonial reasons. The movie was a 3-D production, a fact that becomes apparent as pottery, chairs, spears, and occasional flaming arrows fly toward the camera, and it was shot in Technicolor. For those reasons, we wouldn't call it a b-movie exactly, but it still could have used a boost in budget.
Fernando Lamas plays a rough and tumble trader who plies the Amazon River in a rat trap boat. This is a rough gig. People are mean as hell down there. Even the local priest knows martial arts. Lamas agrees to conduct hot redhead Rhonda Fleming to meet her fiancée, who has ventured far from the nearest trading post in search of gold. She's fresh from California and has no idea her man has turned into a drunk and is canoodling with a local girl played by Rita Moreno.
Fleming's fiancée goes incommunicado, and eventually Lamas decides to trek into the forbidden Valley of the Winds (cue wind machine and sound effects) in order to find him. There isn't much upside to this quest, but something has developed between Lamas and Fleming, and if they don't know whether her fiancée is dead or alive, he'll always stand between them. Or something like that. They head into the wilds, endure struggles that will look familiar to fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and in due time find answers to all their questions, if perfunctorily.
For us, the movie raised new ones, such as where was the screenwriter during all this? Lost in the jungle too, we guess. But we can't say Jivaro is bad. While shot entirely in Hollywood with second unit footage from South America added to fill in the margins, it's actually somewhat convincing in its setting. And Fleming is good, though with her red hair we can't believe the Jivaro we able to miss her with so many arrows. But that's film tradition for you—even today, using better weapons, villains still have terrible aim. If you aim to watch Jivaro, we recommend drinking some firewater to make it a more entertaining diversion, and keeping your expectations in reasonable territory.
Anything you add her to immediately gets better.
Stop us if you know this, but “moreno” is a word used in Spanish for concepts that include dark-haired and tanned. Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno fits those descriptives, and then some. We'd add sizzling, scorching, scalding—and those are just the “s” words. This promo image of her is difficult to date. We know it came no later than 1957 because we've seen it in a Hong Kong magazine from that year. One online source has it as a 1954 shot. We lean more in that direction because Asian magazines tended to use images that were two or three years old. So let's call this 1954. It was—clearly—a good year for Rita. See more here and here.
Say it with words! Seriously! I very much prefer words!
Say It with Bullets was written by Richard Powell and published by Graphic Books in 1954 with great Walter Popp cover art of the instant before all hell breaks loose in a bar. It's the tale of a man named Bill Wayne who, while serving as a pilot in China in World War II, is shot by another pilot, one of five who betray him over half a million dollars in contraband gold. He's left behind but survives, and years later, now in the U.S., has found where each of his almost-killers are residing. He books a spot on a cross-country bus tour called Treasure Trip of the Old West that happens to be passing through those cities, and plans to dispose of his compatriots one by one.
So, obviously, booking a tour that goes through Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Reno, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where one's betrayers coincidentally live, is a reach. Actually, let's just call it impossible. But we're believers in accepting the premise of a book, and since Powell explains this set-up in paragraph five we were willing to go with it. Need we say that revenge isn't as clinical as Wayne imagines? It's complicated by a nosy tour director—young and beautiful, of course—an ambitious deputy sheriff, and the growing realization that he's being trailed by a party or parties unknown.
The book is unusual on multiple fronts but the most notable element is that Wayne is one of the biggest wise-asses we've come across in literature. Here's a typical line, delivered after he's taken a beating from the aforementioned sheriff and, dismayingly, run into him the next morning on a street corner: There was Deputy Sheriff Carson Smith, on leave of absence from a dude ranch advertisement. “Hello,” Wayne said. “Did your knuckles recover from that severe bandaging they got here last night?” Wayne is amusing—or tries to be—even in his direst moments. His attitude pushes Say It with Bullets into farce at times, but he also makes an uneven book more interesting than it deserves to be.
Bermuda, Barbuda, anyplace will do, as long as there's plenty of pizza.
Over the years of watching Santo movies we've made numerous jokes about the legendary El enmascarado de plata—who was played by Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta—being in less than ideal shape. We've even made a few heart attack jokes. Today, for reasons having to do with nothing, we actually sought Huerta's bio and learned that he did in fact die of a heart attack in 1984. We don't feel bad about the fat jokes, cholesterol jokes, and pizza jokes. And in truth Huerta was in decent shape. A bit high in body fat, but with a thick layer of muscle underneath. Wrestling, while fake, takes athleticism, and Huerta had it. The only reason we make fun of him is because we consider him fat for a movie superhero. So the heart attack thing, in the context of all our quips, is ironic.
Misterio en las Bermudas came close to the end of Huerta's career, and finds Dr. Chunkenstein™ dealing with yet another MacGyverish mad villain. This one, who's named Dr. Gro, has a device that allows him to abduct people, objects, or even entire aircraft while producing storm effects, causing authorities to blame the disappearances on the Bermuda Triangle. Initially, Santo and sidekicks Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras know nothing about this and are on protection detail, watching over a Middle Eastern princess played by Gaynor Kote. A trio of women are sent to honeytrap the heroes, but in the midst of this effort, one of them is kidnapped by teleporting aliens. Later there's a political assassination attempt, an underwater lair, a long lost father, and a nuclear explosion. In addition, all of this occurs within a framing device suggesting that this is Santo's—if not humanity's—final outing.
Yeah, it's as bizarre as it sounds. It's as if a card sharp shuffled the script pages then threw every fifth one into the vortex. And the low budget doesn't help the filmmakers make South Texas, where the movie was shot, look like Bermuda. In any case, the creators of the Santo series had a formula and they stick closely to it for this late entry. There's less in-the-ring wrestling action than usual, but we always considered that to be the most expendable part of the movies anyway. Bottom line: if you like Santo you'll like this. Rodolfo Huerta may have been long in the tooth at this point, but the man could still wear a gimp mask with style. Misterio en las Bermudas premiered in Mexico today in 1979.
I'm skeptical about wearing masks in this heat, Santo, but maybe you're right. Maybe they'll make the chicks sit up and take notice. Groovy masks, guys. Those won't, uh, restrict the mobility of your tongues in any way, will they? Well, boys, was I right, or was I right? Question, plot related. So what the fuck was all that alien stuff?
You're always digging in that purse of yours. Until the day I die I'll never understand what women keep in those things.
We were just talking about the classic detective novel set-up in which a woman walks into the dick's office, and here's another example—This Kill Is Mine from Graphic Books in 1956—using that time honored technique. It was originally published as No Slightest Whisper in 1955. Before we get into the book, though, let's note the awesome illustration from Oliver Brabbins, an artist we don't see as much as we'd like. He covers it all here—femme fatale, gun, noir blinds, etc. We especially like how he gets all Manet with the bottle and glasses. It's lovely work. Let's also note the cool interior graphic by an unknown designer (see below) featuring a beautiful stylized silhouette. We liked the book before we read a word.
Those words were written by Dean Evans, and as we said he goes classic with his opening when a woman walks through Reno detective Arnold Weir's office door. Evans tweaks the formula a bit by having the woman be a millionaire's secretary and having the actual millionaire call first and announce that his secretary is on the way, but basically it's the old standard: door opens and trouble commences. Weir is soon embroiled in murder, blackmail, cop trouble, false identity, missing jewels, and the romantic attentions of the secretary. The narrative is filled with hard-boiled lines such as:
He needs protecting like the Painted Desert needs a second coat.
Little grafting souls. Little, filthy, cheap, unimaginative, grafting souls.
I felt as sour as a quince in a bucket of lemons.
Hard-boiled dialogue is a double edged sword. Generally, all but the best authors come up with clunkers, such as Evans' insistence on saying this or that person “curled his lips” at someone else. Once, okay. Twice, maybe. Instance six or seven was a reminder that a standard “smile” or “sneer” will get the job done. Curled his lips sounds like something from a horror novel. Then there was this dud: Her skin was soft and clean looking, like the skin of a fifteen-year-old waking after a night's sleep. Hmph. But generally Evans does well with the repartee. You have to give him credit for that much.
Weir the detective wanders around on a standard clue hunt before finally uncovering the solution—which is related to revenge and secrets that go back twenty years—and finally settling matters in a wild shootout. Overall the book isn't bad, but there are an awful lot of not-bads in genre fiction. Evans knows the formula for writing a mystery, but doesn't make the ingredients come together into something memorable aside from his many clever turns of phrase. We gather he was mainly a sci-fi and fantasy writer, and This Kill Is Mine was his only detective novel. If he'd kept with it he might have done well, but this effort doesn't quite get there.
On the first day of murder, my true love gave to me...
The 42 days of Roger Torrey's 42 Days for Murder refers to the six weeks that someone needed to be resident in Nevada to qualify for a divorce, which we think is kind of clever title-wise. The story deals with a rich man's wife who runs away to Reno to dissolve her marriage but goes incommunicado after she arrives. The husband hires a detective named Shean Connell to track down his wife so that he can at least talk to her before she ditches him. Finding her is not much of a problem for Connell. Arranging for his client to talk to her is another deal entirely. As the story unfolds, it turns out there's a reason for her reluctance to chat. A very good reason, actually, which Connell figures out only at the cost of considerable mayhem, two deadly shootouts, and a veritable pile of corpses.
The book was originally published in 1938, but this Hillman edition featuring a photo cover came in 1949. Torrey was an experienced writer, having produced stories for the pulp magazine Black Mask, and here he shows a deft hand with a unique idea that we can't even hint at without spoiling the book. Flaws include dialogue that sometimes stretches past the point of usefulness or interest—Torrey could have cut the book by twenty pages easily, if not thirty—but it remains a fun ride tearing around 1930's Reno with Connell, who's not only a shamus but an ace piano player. He's the best part of the novel, though he's unusually cynical about women. Too bad 42 Days for Murder was Torrey's only book. It's not perfect, but it's one to catch if you can.
Garner's portrayal of a classic detective feels a lot like a Rockford Files test run.
Raymond Chandler's novels have been adapted to the screen several times. One of the lesser known efforts was 1969's Marlowe, which was based on the 1949 novel The Little Sister and starred future Rockford Files centerpiece James Garner as Chandler's famed Philip Marlowe. You see a cool Spanish popster for the movie above, painted by Fernandez Zarza-Pérez, also known as Jano. As usual when we show you a foreign promo for a U.S. movie, it's because the domestic promo isn't up to the same quality. In this case the U.S. promo is almost identical, but in black and white. The choice was clear.
Since you know what to expect from a Chandler adaptation, we don't need to go into the plot much, except to say it deals with an icepick murderer and ties into show business and blackmail. What's more important is whether the filmmakers made good use of the original material, either by remaining true to its basic ideas or by imagining something new and better. They weren't going for new in this case. They were providing a vehicle for the charismatic Garner and ended up with a movie that features him in the same mode he would later perfect in Rockford.
Marlowe has a few elements of note. Rita Moreno plays a burlesque dancer, and it's one of her sexier roles. Bruce Lee makes an appearance as a thug named Winslow Wong. Garner is the star, so it isn't a spoiler to say that Lee doesn't stand a chance. He's dispatched in unlikely but amusing fashion. Overall, Marlowe feels like an ambitious television movie and plays like a test run for Rockford, but it's fun stuff. We recommend it for fans of Chandler, Moreno, Lee, Carroll O'Connor (who co-stars as a police lieutenant), and especially Garner. It premiered in the U.S. in 1969, but didn't reach Spain until today in 1976.
Cancans de Paris is always uncanny.
Above: a few pages from the French burlesque publication Cancans de Paris, the seventh time we've taken a look at this mag, with this example dating from September 1965. As always there are mainstream celebrities mixed in with the peelers, including Carroll Baker, Brigitte Bardot, Elke Sommer, Kim Novak, Sean Connery, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, and French born ballerina Ludmilla Tchérina. At the top of panel two there's also a minor Raymond Brenot illustration. See some major ones here, and just click the Cancans keywords below if you want to see more issues.
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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