Vintage Pulp Dec 3 2020
DEAD IN THE WATER
A favor turns fatal in MacDonald mystery.


This is just the sort of eye-catching cover any publisher would want from an illustrator, an image that makes the browser immediately curious about the book. Since so many John D. MacDonald novels were illustrated by Robert McGinnis, and the female figure here has the sort of elongation you usually see from him, you could be forgiven for assuming at a glance that this is another McGinnis, but it's actually a Stanley Zuckerberg effort, clearly signed at lower left. We've run across only a few of his pieces, namely The Strumpet City and Cat Man. This is by far the best we've seen.

The story here is interesting. It begins with a woman having drowned in a lake and a sister who disbelieves the verdict of accidental death. She's right, of course, and the detective she hires soon agrees with her. The mystery is quickly revealed to involve taxes, deception, and money—specifically money the dead woman was supposed to keep safe and which has now disappeared. In an unusual move, MacDonald unveils the killer two thirds of the way through the tale, and the detective figures it out shortly thereafter. The final section of the book details his efforts to trap the villain.

This is the last book MacDonald wrote before embarking on his famed Travis McGee franchise. It was within the McGee persona that MacDonald indulged himself in often tedious sociological musings. In The Drowner his characters ring more true, but you can see signs of what is to come in several existential soliloquies concerning the state of the world and the various frail personality types that inhabit it circa 1963. For all our misgivings about the McGee books, they're still good. But we especially recommend any novel MacDonald wrote that came earlier, including this one.

Update: We got an e-mail from Pamela, who told us, "The plot seemed familiar, and sure enough - it was an episode of Kraft Suspense Theatre back in 1964."

We had a look around for it, with no expectations of success, but lo and behold, we found the episode on Archive.org, which often has public domain films and television shows on its platform. We watched the episode, which stars Aldo Ray, Clu Gallagher, and Tina Louise, and we have to say, John. D. MacDonald was probably thrilled. The adaptation is almost exact, with only a bit of license taken with the climax. The only thing he would have hated is that he's credited as John P. MacDonald. The only thing we hated was the lo-rez quality. Oh well. You can't ask for perfection when it comes to early television.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 15 2017
ICE ESCAPADES
Proceed carefully—ice may occur at major plot points.


The thriller Suspense featured the unusual promo poster you see above, which we think really captures the visual feel of film noir in a way posters more typical of the genre do not. Those posters are amazing, but this one is a nice change of pace. The movie stars Olympic ice skater and sometime magazine model Belita, alongside Barry Sullivan, an incredibly prolific actor who appeared in scores of films. Sullivan plays a hustler who weasels his way up from lowly peanut vendor to fast living impresario at a wildly popular Los Angeles ice skating extravaganza. The catalyst for his ascent is his radical suggestion that Belita leap through a circle of swords. Only in old movies, right? “Hey, that circle of swords gag was a great idea! How'd you like to manage the joint!”

Belita's ice skater is a riff on the standard film noir chanteuse, except instead of doing a few a nightclub numbers she does a few skate routines. She's as good as advertised, too. But the success of any film romance hinges on the chemistry between the boy and girl and here it feels contrived. Both Belita and Sullivan are decent actors, but he's a little too charisma challenged, in our view, to attract someone whose life is going as skatingly as Belita's. But it's in the script, so okay, she likes the schlub. What Suspense does well, though, is visuals. Check out what director Frank Tuttle does late in the film when the shadow of the aforementioned sword contraption appears outside Sullivan's office. Beautiful work, suggesting that karma may indeed be a circle.

On the whole, Suspense uses ice the same way Die Hard uses a skyscraper. The entire film is improved by the freshness of the setting. Add expensive production values and visuals worthy of study in a film school and you have a noir whose many plusses cancel out its few minuses. We recommend it.
 
As a side note, the ice show is staged in the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, one of the most breathtaking art deco structures ever built, which was of course eventually demolished because that's what they do in Los Angeles. Actually, a fire destroyed it, but only after seventeen years of abandonment which would not have happened if anyone important in the city cared about historically significant architecture. Suspense brings the Pan-Pacific, just above, back to life, and that's another reason to watch it. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.

I'm going to stand right here in your personal space and repeat myself until you say yes.

We're supposed to do a screen kiss, but I'm totally gonna slip you some tongue.

Wow, these are razor sharp, but you'll be fine. Unrelated question—how's your insurance coverage?

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Hollywoodland Aug 27 2016
WATER DANCE
Ice is nice, but harder than water.


British skater and actress Belita, who was born Maria Belita Jepson-Turner, frolics in the pool at the Town House Hotel in Los Angeles for a cover of Life that hit newsstands today in 1945. We've shown you this pool before. A window from a swanky hotel bar known as the Zebra Room provided a view through one wall, which meant patrons could watch swimmers while enjoying cocktails. The hotel put together a group of women called Aqua Maidens who performed swim shows, but Belita was not a Maiden. She was already famous for skating in the 1936 Olympics (though she had finished only sixteenth), and had established a Hollywood career with 1943's Silver Skates and 1944's Lady, Let's Dance. She would also make 1946's Suspense, which was unique for combining skating with film noir.

In addition to being an ace skater Belita was an accomplished dancer, and the Life photos show her demonstrating her underwater ballet skills. She even wears a tutu in a couple of shots. Interestingly, Picture Post, a British Life-like magazine that was considered imitative, had already featured Belita on its cover, also at the Town House, two months earlier on June 16, 1945. Doubtless both sets of photos were from them same session. So in this case Life was the imitator.
 
Belita wasn't the most famous ice skater in Hollywood during the 1940s—Sonja Henie was a huge star, and Vera Ralston was probably better known as well. That may be one reason why Belita managed only eight or nine films before moving on to other pursuits. She eventually retired to the village of Montpeyroux, France, where she died in 2005 at age eighty-two. But the photos below are eternal.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 17 2009
BRING THE PAIN

Japanese sadomasochism publication Suspense Magazine, aka SM, 1973. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
December 04
1918—Wilson Goes to Europe
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sails to Europe for the World War I peace talks in Versailles, France, becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.
1921—Arbuckle Manslaughter Trial Ends
In the U.S., a manslaughter trial against actor/director Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ends with the jury deadlocked as to whether he had killed aspiring actress Virginia Rappe during rape and sodomy. Arbuckle was finally cleared of all wrongdoing after two more trials, but the scandal ruined his career and personal life.
December 03
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
December 02
1954—Joseph McCarthy Disciplined by Senate
In the United States, after standing idly by during years of communist witch hunts in Hollywood and beyond, the U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for conduct bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. The vote ruined McCarthy's career.
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