Leave it to Nazis to turn phys ed from your favorite class into the worst experience of your life.
This cover of Male from this month in 1967 has cover art of history's worst gym class, painted by the great Mort Kunstler, and leave it to Nazis to ruin the one thing you can get a good grade in just by showing up. Another thing ruined is the magazine. When it arrived it turned out some pages were razored out of the center. Probably the most interesting pages. It's an occupational hazard, we suppose. We generally assume the seller had no idea, as these mags are so often the leftovers of fathers and grandfathers, but if it was in fact deliberate, well then, cocks on their house! That's the saying, right? Or it pox? Doesn't matter. The silver lining was that we didn't have to worry keeping the magazine intact while scanning. We just ripped it apart, which sort of felt good.
There's still plenty of interesting material inside this mutilated Male. There's fiction and fact, art from Gil Cohen and Bruce Minney, plus more from Kunstler, a screed against motorcycles, a lot of pro Vietnam War content, with lots of digs at peace activists and draft fugitives. The magazine works especially hard to convince readers that draftees who fled to Canada faced lives worse than if they'd gone to Southeast Asia. We doubt quite seriously that anything could be worse than dying in a hot jungle for no rational purpose 10,000 miles from home. But maybe we're biased—our fathers were war vets, and they had one wish in life: that the military never get its mitts on us. Also that we never do hard drugs. Well, one out of two isn't bad. Twenty scans below.
Steve Sandor draws first blood before Rambo arrives on the scene.
Above you see a low rent poster for The No Mercy Man, aka Bad Man, aka Trained to Kill: USA, which premiered this month in 1973 starring Steve Sandor and Rockne Tarkington, the latter last seen chilling with his pet lion in Black Samson. The No Mercy Man is a mash-up of a biker film, a High Noon-style western, and a blaxploitation film, done on the cheap. And of course with low budgets usually come bad acting, weak scripting, all thumbs in the technical departments, and a paucity of promo images (we found two). This film also has, as a special bonus, a deeply earnest theme song that sucks terribly:
And when he loves you, he loves as hard as he can.
You get no mercy, naw naw naw, from the no mercy man.
Love and lust are the same to him,
just like being raped by the Devil.
His kind of love can only bring you sin,
and his arms can only bring you evil... whooooa ohhh ohhh...
The “no mercy man” of the lyrics is the protagonist Olie Hand, played by Sandor, which means being raped by the Devil is about the hero. Incredibly, the closing theme is even worse, with the lyrics, “no one understands you ’cause you can't be understood.”
Well, let's give it a try. Olie Hand is a Vietnam veteran who did terrible things in the jungles of Southeast Asia, and has now returned to his Arizona hometown to find it plagued by amoral carnies and petty criminals. He's haunted by the war. The sight of violence sends him into a mental tailspin, as horrible memories of his time in action rise to the surface. Despite his aversion to violence, it isn't long before he's forced to take on the men who are turning his town upside down.
Hand is legitimately psychologically damaged, which makes him a clear precursor to Sylvester Stallone's disturbed John Rambo from First Blood. After that film became a runaway hit Stallone booted the mental imbalance of the Rambo character out of the franchise, which freed cinemagoers to revel in hyperviolence without reflection. Rambo became the type of archetypal tough guy many Americans imagine themselves to be—the basically solid guy who tries very hard to avoid trouble, but once he's pushed across the line, boy howdy, you better open wide for your just desserts. Ollie Hand's relationship to John Rambo is clear, but he also brings to mind another iconic movie vigilante.
The year after The No Mercy Man appeared Charles Bronson brought everyman architect Paul Kersey to the screen in Death Wish. Kersey wasn't tortured by previous violent acts; he was justified by current events to commit violence. Killing wasn't harmful but healing, and tookplace vigilante style because of the limits of the law. It was done reluctantly, but creatively, because the capacity for baroque forms of murder lurked beneath the surface all along. American action movies have largely resided in that space ever since: violence is a rarely used but well-oiled tool every real man has at the ready, tucked between his pliers and his socket wrench.
The No Mercy Man is exploitative schlock, but it's at least a bit more thoughtful than the average revenge flick. It suggests there's a price paid for violence beyond mere regret, or being turned into a taciturn curmudgeon whose warm side can eventually be teased out by the right woman or a precocious kid. The price is that you may be so altered that others are unable recognize you as human. If you've actually read your U.S. history—we mean the stuff they only gloss over in school—you know that violence has always been a first resort. The No Mercy Man acknowledges that this isn't ideal, but of course in the end decides pacifism is for pussies. It is, after all, still an American movie.
We expected lightweight erotica but got stuck in a quagmire.
“Don't worry, Mom. We've got penicillin...” With a cover blurb like that, we thought Vietnam Underside! might be something along the lines of L.J. Brown's infamous sleaze novel Viet-Nookie, but no. Instead, the book is a deadly serious history of prostitution and sexual practices in Vietnam from the mid-1800s to the date of publication, which is 1966. It's also—and there's no grey area here—virulently racist. Leland Gardner writes reams about the depravity of the Annamites (an 1800s word used to refer to the Vietnamese), disparages in the most detailed terms their hygiene, morality, ethics, customs, religion, history, mentality, intelligence, and more. He accuses them of practicing pederasty, of allowing incest between pre-teens, and of being inherently promiscuous. The diseases they're allegedly rife with include yellow fever, elephantaisis, syphilis, and gonorrhea, all subsequently inflicted upon ivory pure Westerners. When Gardner writes something true—for instance about the deleterious effects of betel nut chewing on the teeth and mouth—he goes on, and on, and on. He describes Vietnamese women as having “black lacquered teeth and blood red mouths” at least fifty times. Interesting, isn't it, that just when your country's overseas invasion is ramping up you find that, basically, your foes don't deserve to live? Gardner actually claims the Vietnamese were well on their way to self-destruction long before the Yanks showed up. He writes about the war: “[these] decadent, deteriorating people have been adopted by a benevolent Uncle Sam.” Right at that instant Vietnam Underside! got to be too much, so we scrambled to the top of the literary embassy and barely got the last helicopter out. When it comes to choosing books based on the cover art, you win some and you lose some.
I knew it would be a daring dress but this is a little ridiculous.
Vietnamese actress Mei Chen, aka Mei Chen Chalais, tries on a dress and immediately realizes her designer got her request for a plunging neckline confused. Chen isn't well known today, but she'll always have a place in our hearts for her lost world film Luana. And this crazy dress. The photo is from 1968 and first appeared in the magazine Girl Illustrated.
So when you sang “You're So Vain,” the song really was about me, wasn't it?
This is top work from artist C.C. Beale on this cover for Van Wyck Mason's Saigon Singer, especially the small elements of the background writing on the wall and the Siamese cat in the foreground. The singer of the title—who never performs “You're So Vain,” sadly—is Pamela Saunders, a former prisoner in a Japanese internment camp who survives filth and near starvation to resurrect herself as singer in Saigon. Along the way she becomes known as Black Chrysanthemum before adopting the stage name Xenia Morel. Her transformation is interesting, but the star of the story is Major Hugh North, who turns up in Saigon looking for a dossier containing the names of British and American traitors who during the war sold secrets to a Japanese general. Saunders-Chrysanthemum-Morel survived the prison camp by becoming the mistress of the general, and it's due to this close association that she possesses the dossier. She'll give it to North, but only if he pays her enough money to get to Paris, where she wants to continue her singing career.
Mason knew this part of the world and uses his knowledge well in writing of Saigon social life, oppressive heat, scented baths, tiger hunts, French legionnaires, and other you-had-to-be-there aspects of post-World War II Vietnam. As number thirteen in a series of exotic Hugh North mysteries (others were set in Singapore, Burma, Manila, Bangkok, et al) we sense a formula here, but in the end we liked it despite the usual flaws of colonialist fiction, and we were envious of Mason for having travelled in that part of the world during that time, and having been lucky enough to make a career of writing about it. Well, maybe we can't complain too much—we've hit some good spots too. And we write, though we get fuck-all for it. In any case, this particular discovery makes us curious about earlier Mason books, so maybe we'll check out some of his Hugh North adventures. Saigon Singer was originally published in 1946, and the above edition is from 1948.
It's Ho Chi Minh City (not Saigon). Why they changed it we can't say. People just liked it better that way.
This is a beautiful Spanish poster for the 1947 adventure Saigon, which opened in Madrid today in 1948. The film is one of innumerable mid-century thrillers set in foreign cities. At a time when the rest of the world was so distant and hard to reach, Hollywood fetishized it, romanticized it, and set stories wholly or partly in Mexico, Argentina, Morocco, China, Hong Kong, Martinique, and an entire atlas of other places. But today, with the rest of the world so easy to reach, Hollywood mostly tells audiences they'll be kidnapped or dismembered if they leave home. Saigon is old school. It makes viewers wish they could fly to mystical East Asia. Of course, the film's Saigon doesn't exist anymore, but the fact that Hollywood set a movie there tells you it must have been quite a place. But they say that about all the former colonial cities, don't they? Rangoon, Bombay, and Constantinople, as brilliantly eulogized in the satirical song by The Four Lads, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”
Saigon deals with two recently discharged military buddies played by Alan Ladd and Wally Cassell who decide to stay in Asia to show their terminally ill third pal a good time before he dies in a few months. The third man doesn't know he's ticketed for oblivion, which leads to problems when Veronica Lake takes a liking to him. No matter how romantic old Saigon was, only so many tropical nights and platters of French-Vietnamese fusion cuisine can distract you from the fact that the love-hate relationship between Ladd and Lake is unpalatable. To us, slapping, insults, and over-the-top meanness feels like hate-hate. But put on your retro filter and you'll find a lot of comedy in this film, thanks to motormouth quipster Cassell. Some of his lines are truly clever. It wouldn't be exaggerating to say he makes the first sixty minutes of running time watchable.
When Lake inevitably falls for Ladd even though he's been treating her like a disease for hundreds of nautical miles, you'll accept it because it's a motif in old movies—though usually managed with a lot more charm and finesse. Overall we consider Saigon recommendable, but just barely. You know what we really took away from this movie, though? What you needed to do back then was open a shop and sell white suits. You'd have made a fortune. There are more white suits here than you can count. Far more than in Casablanca or Our Man in Havana. This film will make you wonder whether you can pull off the white suit. But even if you looked okay in it where would you wear it these days? Like old Saigon, that city is gone.
Nguyen proves to be an Enterprising star.
French born, half Vietnamese actress France Nguyen has had quite a few film and television appearances, but our favorite of her roles—of course—is that of Elaan of Troyius in the original Star Trek series in 1968. That character, a sort of deep space Asian and Egyptian ethnic mash-up who boards the U.S.S. Enterprise as part of a diplomatic mission, had tears laced with a powerful chemical that worked like a love potion. Kirk, of course, touched those and more, and ended up losing his head over her. In our opinion she didn't need magic tears to make that happen—Elaan of Troyius was one of the most mysterious and beautiful in a long line of beautiful and mysterious guest aliens featured on Star Trek. The top photo captures all the qualities that made Nguyen perfect for the role, and in the second shot you see her in costume as Elaan.
In The French Love we learn that what the French love is sex.
Random Japanese poster art today, a promo for The French Love, starring Jacques Fugie, Eva Saint (not to be confused with Eva Marie Saint), and others. Fugie, Saint and all the other actors listed as performers here were pseudonyms, but ones fabricated especially for the Japanese market. Thus you won't find any reference to an Eva Saint or Jaques Fugie anywhere else. The French Love actually starred Herman Ryan, Catherine Franck, Patricia Hermenier, and Rod Cameron in the story of an American journalist hooking up with two French flight attendants in Paris while covering the diplomatic meetings leading up to the treaty that ended the Vietnam War. Heady times, no? Leave it to the French to mix social commentary with smut. The movie was directed by José Bénazéraf, a softcore veteran who helmed something like a hundred erotic films between 1963 and 1999, as well as starring in some. Release dates on The French Love, aka merely French Love vary—many sources say 1972, but we think it was 1973.
It must be jelly ’cuz jam don’t shake like that.
We got curious about Nai Bonet, who we’d never heard of until last week, and after taking a stroll around the internet discovered she was pretty famous in her day and even released a 1966 single for which you see the sleeve above. The song is called “Jelly Belly,” with “The Seventh Veil” on the flipside. Bonet teaches fans to do her trademark Jelly Belly dance, which we can only imagine led to many sprained backs in mid-century America. But maybe you want to try. The instructions are in like Danish, but here’s the gist:
1: Clap your hands together and gently bow…
2: Put your hands over your head and I’ll show you how…
3: First you inhale (pull your tummy in)
4: Then you exhale (push your tummy out)
5: Hips go up…
6: …and down
7: Tummy round and round…
8: Shoulders shivering…
9: Everything a-quivering.
And presumably it's rinse and repeat at that point. For extra inspiration you can hear "Jelly Belly" here. Just remember—if you pull something, rest it, apply ice, and dream up a much better story about your injury than you were trying to get everything a-quivering.
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