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.
Before Superman, Batman, and Spiderman there was the Phantom.
We picked up a copy of El Hombre Enmascarado late last year when we were passing through Granada, and in typical fashion, it's taken us almost a year to scan anything from it. But never let the early become the enemy of the late, or something to that nonsensical effect, so above you see the cover of issue thirty-four, written and illustrated by Lee Falk and published in 1960 by Editorial Dolar as part of its Héroes Modernos series. However, Dolar was merely translating a U.S. serial. There the main character was known as the Phantom, originating as a daily syndicated comic strip. This episode is titled “Balas,” or “Bullets.” The only credit inside is for Falk, but we're actually unsure whether he was the sole hand behind this. Although Falk was an artist, Phantom strips are generally credited to three cartoonists—Ray Moore, Wilson McCoy and Seymond Barry.
Falk invented the character of the Phantom in 1936, which makes him a precursor to modern superheroes. He even predates Superman, who came in 1936, and Batman, who arrived in 1940. His background is fun. During the age of piracy, Sir Christopher Standish was killed in an attack that his son survived. That son swore to fight evil in his father's name, and pledged that his descendants would too. So each new Standish generation inherits a costume and fights crime, perpetuating the idea among the public that the masked vigilante is immortal—a phantom. In addition to the costume he carries two pistols and two rings: one bears the image of a skull, which he uses to mark foes by slugging them in the jaw. The other ring is a peace symbol. His sidekick is a wolf and he also sometimes rides a white stallion. We've scanned a few interior pages plus the slightly defaced rear cover for your enjoyment. And perhaps—who knows?—we'll have more from the masked man later.
People try to put them down.
This photo was made to promote the 1959 drama The Beat Generation, and shows co-stars Steve Cochran and Fay Spain. The movie also starred the never-to-be-overlooked Mamie Van Doren. While you would think the movie deals with disaffected youth—and in some ways it does—it's largely about middle-aged detective Cochran trying to capture a serial rapist. We watched it five years ago. You can find out what we thought here.
What evil lurks in the hearts of men? The psychologist knows!
We wanted to highlight once again the interesting output of Estudio MCP, which was the marquee under which Spanish artists Ramón Martí, Josep Clavé, and Hernán Pico worked. They created this poster for Retorno al abismo, known in English as Conflict, starring Humphrey Bogart. The movie was made during the height of public interest in psychology and attempts to portray a situation in which a man's subconscious distress manifests in unpredictable ways. The result is pretty hamfisted, but Bogart makes it work anyway because he's Bogart. We talk about the movie a bit more here. After opening in the U.S. in 1947, Conflict premiered in Spain today in 1947.
From moment to moment everything can change.
Donald MacKenzie's Moment of Danger, also known as Scent of Danger, appeared in 1959 as a Dell paperback with a front painted by the busy Robert McGinnis, always the man to employ for elevated cover art. In this case, his pistol packing, sarong clad femme fatale lounging behind a spider plant stands as a top effort. And by the way, we only know what a spider plant is because we have six large ones busily propagating around palatial Pulp Intl. HQ.
The tale follows a double-crossed jewel thief named Macbeth Bain (you gotta love that) who vows revenge on the partner who ditched him after a big heist and put the cops onto him. The double-cross is only half successful. The partner gets away with the loot, but through a stroke of luck, the evidence that was supposed to put Bain behind bars never materializes. Now he's free, furious, and tracking his missing partner from London to Gibraltar, Tangier, and Malaga, seeking to even the score. Along for the adventure is the partner's wife, also intent upon revenge after being ditched for another woman.
This is a densely written tale, heavy on narrative and light on dialogue, told from Bain's point of view as he struggles with fear of his uber-competent partner, and attraction toward his beautiful sidekick. He's a curious character, hard to like at first because his emotions range from anger at his betrayal to resentment that a woman is tugging at his heart, but you eventually root for him. The book ends almost anti-climactically, mid-scene at a crucial moment, but it remains a decent whirlwind thriller that passes through several exotic cities, and is worth the reading time, imperfections and all.
Hollywood agreed. The big brains out in Tinseltown liked Moment of Danger enough to option it and make it into a 1960 movie titled Malaga, starring Trevor Howard and Dorothy Dandridge. We'll definitely watch it because it's a noteworthy film, representing a rare leading role for an African American actress, and in fact was Dandridge's last movie. Our film watching résumé is a bit thin on the Dandridge front anyway, so we now have a good reason to address that. We'll of course report back.
It's never far below the surface of things.
Recently a friend bought a flat, and tucked away under some floorboards was a cache of fascist artifacts. You see one of those above—an oil portrait of Spain's fascist dictator Francisco Franco, clad in his generalissimo uniform, in the full bloom of power. The Spanish Civil War fueled so much literature. Hemingway, Orwell, Sartre, Ramón Sender, and Graham Greene all wrote important works about the war. You notice there's only one Spanish writer in that list? Obviously, due to censorship the best Spanish books came after Franco was gone, which puts them out of our purview, time-wise. But there are numerous Spanish writers who later tackled the subject brilliantly, for example Jesús Torbado.
We think these items we've posted today are excellent examples of real-world pulp. Just below is the yoke and arrows, an old symbol from the 1400s, adopted by the fascist Falange in 1934, and widely utilizedby the nationalist rebels during the Civil War. With the help of Hitler and Mussolini they prevailed in the conflict, after which the Falange became Spain's only legal political party, with the yoke and arrows one of its main symbols. This example is made of brass. Below that is a fascist flag, and you see the yoke and arrows on it, separated left and right on the bottom. This particular flag is not a perfect match with any we saw online, but it resembles the Spanish Army flag used between 1940 and 1945.
Since we were simply tagging along that morning to look at the newly purchased flat and hadn't expected to uncover any treasures, we weren't carrying a camera or cellphone. At first we asked our friend to shoot the items on his phone, but we quickly realized he didn't understand that we needed clear, steady imagery, so we took over the photography chores and had him and PI-1 hold the stuff. But somehow we got mixed up and didn't reshoot one of the items, and all we have is our friend's blurry shot of it.
That would be the panel below, which features PI-1 holding a cross and wreath of some sort that we've been unable to find anywhere online. We really wish we'd gotten a better photo of it, but by the time we looked at what we had, which was days later, our friend had given away everything.
The bullets need no explanation, but the pennant just above does. It was made for the Reunión Nacional de Instructores de Formación Politica—the National Meeting of Political Training Instructors—which was held in 1955 in Valencia. Obviously that was a convention to train educators in how to indoctrinate students into fascist ideas.
The next panel, just below, shows a pamphlet written by politican José Maria Codón titled La Familia en la Pensamiento de la Tradición, which means The Family in the Thought of Tradition, published in 1959. Fascists were all about traditional family, and of course that meant women had few rights, being reduced in the ideals of the Falange to little more than housewives and baby incubators.
The last panel, below, shows the portrait of Francisco Franco just after we found it, and we suggest that if you have a portrait of any living politician in your home and you're not related to him or her, you're pretty far gone. The portrait is signed, but we can't identify the artist. IL something or LL something. Not Cool J, though considering Franco's regime abducted 300,000 children and sold thousands of them to couples as far away as South America, a lot of people would have fared better with a rapper in charge. Actually, it isn't fair to LL Cool J to set the bar that low. He'd do fine period. You also see in that shot PI-1's shapely stems.
"Fascist" is the epithet du jour, but these artifacts were a reminder that important historical terms are cheapened by internet hoardes applying them to every school board head, municipal bureaucrat, and cable series showrunner with whom they disagree. Some leaders and personalities definitely deserve the label, obviously. As we mentioned above, our friend gave everything away, though we weren't clear whether it was wanted for academic or personal reasons. We thought perhaps a museum might be a good place for it all, but the items don't appear to have great value. For example, we found some Codón pamphlets on sale online for three euros. But even if they aren't worth much in cash, there was value for us in seeing them. We wouldn't have traded the morning for anything.
I know these regional airports lack the usual amenities, but a shuttle to the terminal sure would be nice.
We've mentioned before that we like to read books about places we've been, but we had no idea the 1960 thriller Seven Lies South was set in Spain and Morocco. We impulse-bought this 1962 Crest edition after seeing William P. McGivern's name and taking in the striking Harry Bennett cover art featuring a woman, an aircraft, two bedouins, and their camels. McGivern wrote the excellent 1961 juvenile delinquent thriller Savage Streets, so that was all we needed to know. We found out in the first page that the setting, as the story opened, was Malaga, Spain, and went, “Oh, okay—even better.”
The book stars Mike Beecher, a former bomber pilot, now in his late thirties and doing a belated Lost Generation bit—idleness, parties, a rotating cast of acquaintances, and a lot of solitary reflection in a foreign land. His Sun Also Rises-style fatalism is a little tedious, in our view. After all, he was never wounded in the sex organs like Jake Barnes, and if one's naughty bits function, there's always reason to smile. In any case, one day he meets a beautiful young woman named Laura Meadows, who embodies his dissatisfaction:
She symbolized everything that was unobtainable, beyond his reach; the rosy and prosperous life of America, with the tides of success sweeping everyone on to fine, fat futures.
But not everyone, of course. Entire ethnicities were excluded from that sweeping tide of success. Things are unobtainable for Beecher, but only because he's made a choice to reject them. What a luxury, to reject something, then bemoan what one “can't” have, when many people really can't have it. It's not a flaw in the book, so much as a cultural blind spot—perhaps deliberately inserted by McGivern, who was generally insightful about such issues. You have to sort of smile at Beecher's inability to appreciate being reasonably young, healthy, and knocking around the south of Spain drinking wine. Not everyone gets to do that. That's exactly what we do, and we appreciate it every day.
Beecher is coerced into helping to steal a plane headed for Morocco, but the mission goes wildly sideways, which unexpectedly mutates the narrative into a desert survival adventure. In order to set up and progress through this section, McGivern has his characters sometimes undertake actions that don't exactly resound with logic, but even so the book is good. McGivern can really write, even when it verges on the preposterous. He was more at home in the suburbs of Savage Streets, but he navigates the Spain and Morocco of Seven Lies South deftly enough. We have no hesitation about trying him again.
Bang bang, lovelies—there's a fab new sheriff in town.
Helga Liné's last name has an accent, which means it's pronounced not “line” but “lee-nay.” She was born in Germany as Helga Stern in 1932, but her family fled nazism and she grew up in Portugal, where her first exposure to show business was as a dancer and circus acrobat. It was after moving to Spain in 1960 that her film career took off. She appeared in many giallo, spaghetti western, and horror films, among them All'ombra di una colt, aka In a Colt's Shadow, Pánico en el Transiberiano, aka Horror Express, and Amanti d’Oltretomba, aka Nightmare Castle. The promo above is not one we can identify as from a particular film, but we do know the date—it was part of a session that produced a cover for the Spanish magazine Dígame in July 1965.
Whoa. This is going to sound incredible, but right now I'm looking at what has to be the biggest bird of all time.
Once again we decided to read a book about someplace we've been. We just enjoy reading descriptions of places from a lifetime ago that we happen to know personally. This time it was the Canary Islands, where we spent time about five years back, depicted in A.J. Cronin's novel Grand Canary. Unfortunately, this tale concerning an assortment of characters on a steamer headed Spainward was a bit of a slog. The cast was too typical: two missionaries, a drunk, a profane older lady, a beautiful young one, a gruff captain, etc. Grand Canary was originally published in 1933, so this idea wasn't a cliché back when Cronin wrote it, but in our view it still doesn't compare well to other books about disparate characters turning up in exotic ports. The main plot involves a broken doctor trying to escape a ruined past who finds himself smack in the middle of a yellow fever outbreak. Chance for redemption? Maybe. The art on this 1952 edition from Bantam is by Mitchell Hooks, and it's excellent.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1966—LSD Declared Illegal in U.S.
LSD, which was originally synthesized by a Swiss doctor and was later secretly used by the CIA on military personnel, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and members of the general public in a project code named MKULTRA, is designated a controlled substance in the United States.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
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