Commuters run to work after latest round of NYC budget cuts eliminates subway cars.
Andrew L. Stone may be unique in the realm of vintage literature. His 1958 thriller Cry Terror is a novelization of the film of the same name, which he wrote, directed, and co-produced. Cry Terror wasn't the first time Stone wore multiple hats. Two years earlier he had written and directed the thriller Julie, and written the novelization too. The screenplay earned him an Academy Award nomination. He racked up thirty-seven directorial credits during his career, and among his output was Stormy Weather, The Hard-Boiled Canary, Highway 301, Confidence Girl, and A Blueprint for Murder. He ended up with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Another reason we wanted to highlight Cry Terror today is because of the excellent cover art by Robert Maguire. It was modeled after a promo shot from the film of lead actress Inger Stevens. You see that below. We were thinking about buying the book, but digging up all this info has revealed the entire plot to us, so we won't bother. Also, the copies that are currently out there are going for fifty dollars and up. As we mentioned before, we don't go that high for anything we'd be tempted to swat flies with. Plus we have a ton of books piled up. We may watch the movie, though. Less time, less expense. If we do we'll report back.
I always knew my movie career would end one day. But I thought it would at least start first.
Having spent some years in L.A., and having worked in entertainment there, we're drawn to Hollywood novels. Horace McCoy's I Should Have Stayed Home tells the story of Ralph Carston, twenty-something hot shit from Georgia, who heads out to Hell A. and learns that stardom is not easily achieved. This is a simple and unlayered tale, and considering what we know firsthand can happen in Hollywood, Ralph doesn't actually go through anything earth-shattering. Most of his problems stem from the fact that he's a pompous dumbass. He tries unsuccessfully to make connections, hooks up with a rich cougar who has a sexual fetish, goes to some parties, is warned he can't be a star with his southern accent, spends a few chapters infuriated by an interracial couple he sees at someone's house, battles professional envy, has a bit of strife with his roomie Mona, and deals with tragedy concerning his friend Dorothy. By the end he's grown terminally discouraged and cynical in a town that runs on hope. Dare we say it? He should have stayed home.
Lange novel has plenty of friction but not enough heat.
This photo cover was made for the 1968 thriller Zero Cool, written by John Lange, who was in reality a guy named Michael Crichton. Zero Cool is a fantastic title for a crime novel, but there's little else to suggest Crichton would become the zillion-selling author of Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, except possibly a flair for gimmicky ideas. In this case, several unlucky people are dispatched by a means unknown, their bodies torn as if they had been attacked by a madman wielding a scalpel. The truth of how these killings are accomplished is classic Crichton—i.e. high-concept and probably impossible. The deaths are ancillary—the main plot involves an American doctor in Spain coerced into performing an autopsy, and forced to insert an unknown object into the body. This act leads to dangerous repercussions, but there's no heft or menace to the narrative, which means we can't recommend the book. For Crichton and crime, you're better off with later, more accomplished efforts like The Great Train Robbery and Rising Sun. In Zero Cool he's just warming up.
And if this goes as well as I hope, you can kiss the day after that goodbye too.
Above, a cover for Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy, for Signet Books with art by James Avati. McCoy was one of the more hardboiled writers of his era, often swimming in the same end of the pool as Jim Thompson and James M. Cain. We'll talk about a couple of his books in detail later. This one was adapted into a film of the same name in 1950 starring James Cagney and Barbara Payton. It's one we haven't seen, but we'll get around to that too.
What is it with men? Why can't I find one who likes cats?
Like clockwork we return to master illustrator Robert McGinnis, as any paperback art site must. Here you see a cover for The Hellcat by Australian author Carter Brown, aka Alan Yates, for Signet Books, 1962. We showed you a Dutch cover for this years ago, which you can see here.
One motivated American outsmarts an entire cabal of communists in Spillane crime drama.
Mickey Spillane's 1951 red scare caper One Lonely Night is, on one hand, classic Spillane starring his franchise sociopath Mike Hammer, but on the other, silly, polemical, and painfully dated. Mike Hammer the insane killer is kind of likeable, but Mike Hammer the insane killer with a political agenda is a bit tedious. Hammer's anti-commie pronouncements usually come across like set-ups for punchlines, as if he might go, “Just kidding! If we're comparing body counts we capitalists are running neck and neck! Gen-o-cide! Sla-vuh-ree!” But nope—Hammer remains both privileged and aggrieved throughout. In that way he's a very modern character. Since Spillane clearly thought Soviet influence in America was a serious threat he at least should have populated this violent slog through NYC's leftist underground with canny commies. But when they're this sloppy, why worry? Oh well. We'll always have Kiss, Me Deadly.
All these books are on our bucket list.
When you look at paperback covers every day it's interesting the common elements you notice. Of late, we've noticed buckets. They pop up on backwoods and rural sleaze novels, usually in amusing fashion, often in the possession of hardworking women going about difficult chores while nearby men don't do dick. We'll just tell you—that's not the way it works around our place.
The deeper you go into this casino the wilder it gets.
Today we're circling back to James Bond—as we do every so often—to highlight these movie tie-in editions of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale. The movie these are tied into is not the 1963 original with Sean Connery, but the 1967 screwball version with David Niven as Bond and Woody Allen as Bond's nephew Jimmy Bond. If you haven't seen it, just know that it was terribly reviewed, with Time magazine calling it an “an incoherent and vulgar vaudeville.” These covers are derived from the Robert McGinnis Casino Royale movie poster, which is an all-time classic. McGinnis created two versions of the poster—one with text and one without, with the painted patterns on the female figure varying slightly. You see both of those below.
The paperback was published by both Great Pan and Signet, and the cover art was different for the two versions. The Great Pan version at top is McGinnis's unaltered work, but the Signet version just above was painted by an imitator, we're almost certain. We'd hoped to answer this for sure by visiting one of the numerous Bond blogs out there, but none of them have really discussed the difference between the 1967 paperback covers. That leaves it up to us, so we're going to say definitively that the Great Pan version was not painted by McGinnis. Whoever the artist was, they did a nice job channeling the original piece, even if the execution is at a much simpler level.
Moving back to the posters, if you scroll down you'll see that we decided to focus on the details of the textless version to give you a close look at McGinnis's detailed work. The deeper you go the more you see—dice, poker chips, glittery earrings, actor portraits, and more. If you had a huge lithograph of this on your wall and a tab of acid on your tongue, an entire weekend would slip past before you moved again. This is possibly the best work from a paperback and movie artist considered to be a grandmaster, one the greatest ever to put brush to canvas. If anyone out there can tell us for sure who painted the Signet paperback—or whether it is indeed McGinnis—feel free to contact us.
Hear no evil, see no evil, and definitely report no evil to the cops.
As we continue our readings in vintage crime fiction, some authors emerge more than others as creators to specifically seek out. Lionel White has just moved from the “worth a read” category to the “trusted” category based on his 1956 thriller The House Next Door. Not only is this a good tale, but it's high concept, and told with style. The sprawling narrative deals with a pair of bank robbers who hole up in a suburban house to wait for the heat from their latest heist to dissipate. Late that night, after some heavy drinking, a neighbor loses his keys and is forced to climb in his side window. But it isn't his house. They all look similar, and he's new to the subdivision. He discovers he's in the wrong place only after turning on a light and finding a freshly murdered corpse—one of the bank robbers. He dives out a window just as he's about to be caught, later reports what he saw to the police, and for his efforts becomes the prime suspect in a completely different random murder. There's plenty more to the book, but in short White works with numerous characters, narrates from multiple points of view, juggles various plotlines, and weaves a tale that engrosses from beginning to end. Highly recommended.
When I ask you to disrobe it doesn't seem like you get excited the way you used to.
The sprawling 1925 medical novel Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1926, but no book was so lofty it couldn't be reworked to fit the pulp paperback aesthetic of the 1950s. We read this way back when we attempted to go through the entire Pulitzer list in order. Some of those books were amazing, like Edna Ferber's So Big, and others made us almost abandon the project. Arrowsmith was somewhere in the middle for us. The subtly sexual art by Barye Phillips fits this classic, because the main character Martin is sort of a serial romancer who can't stick with one woman even when he tries.
Did we ever finish that Pulitzer list? No. Once we learned that even among the best books ever written some are markedly better than others, we began skipping ahead and finally stopped after To Kill a Mockingbird and The Edge of Sadness. Those two very different and indescribably awesome novels completed our interest in deep examinations of the human experience. After those, we wanted to have fun when we read. We moved on to the frights, thrills, and speculations of horror, vintage crime, and sci-fi, and that's where we mainly reside today. But Arrowsmith was interesting and we recommend it for a compelling read.
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