Toto we’re not in Africa anymore.
We said we'd get back to Stuart Cloete’s 1943 jungle drama Congo Song, and here we are. The book has been reprinted often, including in the 1958 Monarch edition you see above, with Harry Schaare cover art. Its popularity certainly owed something to the fact that it was another book that nurtured popular Western stereotypes about life in Africa, including that it attracted decadent and damaged whites whose weaknesses were inevitably amplified by the deep, dark, primitive, savage, mysterious continent. You've read something like this once or twice, we bet, thanks to Hemingway and others, though Cloete, who was from South Africa, writes in an entirely different style than Papa:
This was the Congo song: the song of sluggish rivers, of the mountains, the forests; the song of the distant, throbbing drums, of the ripe fruits falling, of the mosquitoes humming in the scented dusk; the song of Entobo, of the gorilla, and the snake. The song no white man would ever sing. The wild dogs cry out in the night as they grow restless, longing for some solitary company.
Oops—that last sentence is from the Toto song “Africa.” Don't know how that slipped in there. Anyway, Congo Song unfolds in the months before the start of World War II. Cloete’s characters are diverse, with his main creation being Olga le Blanc, the only woman living in an isolated outpost called Botanical Station with several men, including her husband, a researcher who spends a lot of time away. Olga is a vamp who must make other men fall in with love her, and her affections don't end at homo sapiens sapiens—she has a gorilla, unsubtly named Congo, that she nursed at her own breast when it was an infant. Cloete’s symbolism is pretty thick milk.
Erudite conversation, circular philosophizing, seductions, and secrets abound at Botanical Station. One of the other main characters is an American named Henry Wilson who has been sent by handlers in Nairobi to keep an eye on the doings of a German spy named Fritz von Brandt. Olga, meanwhile, spies on von Brandt for the English—sometimes from his bed. Other characters have less purpose, and many eccentricities. One drinks too much. Another sleeps with teenaged Congolese girls under the guise of employing them as domestics. The researcher seems to love trees more than Olga. Nobody is particularly happy. Who is who? Who wants what?
There's another spy, who we won't name, a machine-like man, asexual, immune even to Olga: Women were the weakness of so many. Money, luxury, power, all resolved themselves finally into women. That was where the money went. That was what the power was used to obtain. How lucky he was to have been born without sexual feelings. All the duplicity in Congo Song derives from the looming war in Europe, but there's also another driver: “Under all this,” Olga observes, “is the never-ending fight for the riches of Africa.”
Despite all the dinners, safaris, subterfuges, and soliloquies—or maybe because of the soliloquies—the book doesn't gather momentum until about page two-fifty, after a fatal accident. Then things move fast enough to cause whiplash. Death comes by various methods, none of them banal. And of course there's still that gorilla. He lives in the house with the le Blancs, but Olga lets him loose regularly. Surely that'll end with limbs separated from bodies and blood on the louvered doors. And Cloete clearly must—absolutely must—squeeze in a little lethal witch-doctoring.
No more plot hints. However, it isn't a spoiler to reveal that since Cloete follows the basic blueprint of other books of this type, at least a character or two eventually flees for modern civilization. But they'll remember Congo with bittersweet nostalgia—primarily during a maudlin denouement drawn out over several chapters. But it's understandable—it's not easy to let go of such beauty and horror. Not easy to let go of Congo Song either. It wasn't perfect, but it was very interesting. It’s gonna take a lot to take me awaaaay from yoooou… There’s nothing that a hundred men or moooore could ever doooo… I bless the rains down in Aaaafricaaa…
You never know when your time is up. Usually.
Above: Veronica Lake stars in a menacing promo photo made for her 1944 spy movie The Hour Before Dawn. She plays a pure femme fatale, a bad woman living in London as a double agent in the employ of the Third Reich. The movie was poorly reviewed, but we give this image five stars.
Proceed with caution—Nazi crossing.
Marjorie Reynolds gives her best transfixed look in this promo image made for her 1944 film noir Ministry of Fear. The swastika leaves no doubt who the villains are. They take over a New York City brownstone and use it as a base of operations for various dastardly doings. The film is uneven despite being helmed by the legendary Fritz Lang. Reynolds, who also acted under her real name Marjorie Goodspeed, as well as Marjorie Moore, appeared in dozens of movies but wasn't quite what you'd call a star. Her signature moment probably came when she sang the song, “White Christmas,” in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. She performed it twice—once solo, and once as a duet with Bing Crosby. She didn't appear in many crime movies or thrillers, so we probably won't see her here again, but this is quite a shot to go out on. You can read what we wrote about Ministry of Fear here.
Swiss bank receives long deserved exposure thanks to data leak.
We're occasionally asked why we don't do modern true crime write-ups as often as we once did. There are a couple of reasons. We actually have jobs, and the research on crime stories is time consuming. But secondly, modern day swindles, scams, and corruption are out of control to the extent that writing about them seems redundant. But we're making an exception today because one of our previous subjects, who we wrote about way back in 2009, has popped up in the news again. That would be Hisham Talaat Moustafa, who was sentenced to death for hiring out the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim. His was one of thousands of names just revealed in a massive financial data leak from Credit Suisse, one of the most prestigious banks in Switzerland, which hides money for the richest people in the world. We think everyone knows Swiss banks are corrupt, right? Their first secrecy laws were adopted in 1713. It's safe to say they've been corrupt for almost that long. Over the years Credit Suisse's clients have included Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, who stole $10 billion from the Philippine treasury, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Panamanian drug lord and CIA informant Manuel Noriega, thousands of Nazis who were hiding their expropriations, and countless shady shell companies. One can insert the usual objections about taxes here, but the point is that regularpeople must pay them, yet the rich and powerful somehow always manage to avoid their fair share, even when they've generated their loot through illegal or even genocidal means. As with many morally rudderless institutions and people, what Swiss banks do is perfectly legal, but “perfectly legal” is the phrase uttered by people who know they're willfully engaged in behavior that obviously should be illegal—and in fact is illegal for everyone but the rich and connected.
Credit Suisse is trying to pretend that the leak reveals old accounts from before the bank cleaned up its practices (which it never substantially did), but the spin won't be effective because the data reveals that the bank is currently holding money for human traffickers, drug lords, oligarchs, stock cheats, treasury looters, mafia kingpins and—in the case of Hisham Moustafa—murderers. Correction—pardoned murderers, since he was released thanks to presidential decree in 2017. The information on all this corruption was originally passed to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung via an anonymous whistleblower, and the odds are good that in a matter of weeks or months that currently unknown person will be outed and have to make a full time job of trying to avoid the total destruction of his or her life and a prison sentence—no pardon pending.
Tax and corruption problems have exploded globally as elite greed has grown, the profits from criminality have soared, digital technology has created previously-unheard-of fortunes, offshoring of profits has become standard practice, deregulation and the de-facto dissolving of anti-trust laws have allowed corporations to grow more powerful than countries, and austerity has shrunk or eliminated the enforcement mechanisms of public institutions. In fact, in addition to funneling money from regular people to corporations and the rich, the other point of austerity is to shrink government to prevent it prying into the affairs of corporations and the rich. Libertarians rejoice. Insider trading, commodities fraud, and money laundering are all now rampant, and there's nothing people can do about it because the government institutions meant to be centers of oversight were taken over by the rich decades ago.
Moustafa paid to have his girlfriend knifed to death. Unlike murderers able to hide behind the fig leaf of non-conviction, his guilt was established as a fact during a criminal court proceeding. He was sentenced to hanging but was retried and had his punishment reduced to a mere fifteen years. He spent, in total before his pardon, nine years in a country club prison, and all the while managed his wealth, built up his billions, andcame out of jail not disgraced and shunned, but welcomed, feted, and once again demanding and receiving VIP treatment, the best tables in the best restaurants, and the ear of the global elite. He threw a few coins to charity along the way to spit-shine his reputation, had his thriving conglomerate Talaat Moustafa Group donate some COVID vaccines, but still he's a murderer who wriggled loose from the hangman's noose, and today enjoys every privilege he ever enjoyed—while his victim is dead forever.
This is the place in which we find ourselves. We all understand, if we actually absorb factual information rather than apologist propaganda or fanciful myth, that the rich have fucked up this world, and the rest of us, as well as future generations, are going to pay to clean up the mess. If it can even be cleaned up, which is doubtful. And that's why we stopped writing about modern crime and corruption. It's pointless. It's banal. Writing about old crimes is an escape, a window into history and the mad hearts of men and women who are long, long gone. Writing about current crimes is self-flagellation. We'll still do it on occasion when the urge strikes, like today, but we're well aware that people tend to complain more as time goes by and we don't want to fall into that trap. We want Pulp Intl. to be a place of entertainment and wonder—by which we mean amazing art, exciting fiction, bizarre historical and Hollywood facts, and beautiful women.
The king of tabloids sets its sights on the Queen of Greece.
Every month when Confidential magazine hit newsstands, we imagine Hollywood celebrities receiving the bad news that they'd made the cover, and going, “Shit.” This issue published in January 1964 features Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Frank Sinatra, and Jill St. John. The first three members of that group probably took the news in stride, since they were all tabloid staples by then. St. John wasn't quite at their level, but her links with Sinatra kept her in the scandal sheets for a while too.
A person who wasn't used to Confidential's attentions was Frederica of Hanover, who at the time was Queen Consort of Greece—which is just a fancy way of saying she was married to the King of Greece. Confidential says she was a Nazi, a pretty serious charge, needless to say. Was she? Well, her grandfather was Kaiser Wilhelm II, as a girl she was a member of Bund Deutscher Mädel, which was a branch of the Hitler Youth, and she had brothers in the SS. Also, back in 1934 Adolf Hitler wanted to link the British and German royal houses, and tried to pressure Frederica's parents into arranging for the seventeen-year-old girl to marry the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII. And as Queen Consort she made a habit of meddling in Greek politics in ways that made clear she was not a fan of democracy. None of that is a particularly good look.
She had defenders, though, who believed that for a person in her position it would have been impossible not to have been a member of certain groups and to have socialized with Nazis. It's interesting, isn't it, how the rich and powerful always benefit from a special set of excuses? People can't really expect her to have made a stand, can they? But the excuse is hollow. As a high ranking royal she could have avoided anything she wished. Membership in organizations when she was a little girl is one thing, but as an adult she could have denounced Nazism with damage to her reputation the only potential result. A damaged reputation is no small thing, but if we expect resistance from people who'd have been imprisoned or shot for doing so, we should probably expect the same from people who would have suffered mostly dirty looks.
Confidential focuses on Frederica's July 1963 visit to England. The visit was no big surprise—Frederica, her husband King Paul of Greece, Queen Elizabeth, and her husband Prince Philip, were all related. They were all direct descendants of Queen Victoria. Monarchy is a funny thing, isn't it? The visit triggered a protest of about three thousand British leftists that was violently broken up by five thousand police. The protestors carried banners that said, “Down with the Nazi Queen.” After mentioning this fiasco, Confidential delves into Frederica's history, some of which we've outlined above, then loops back to the protests, which she blamed on the British press. But she had already reached a level of notoriety that usually brought out protestors who loudly booed her, particularly in Greece. She eventually retreated from public life, became a Buddhist, and died early at age sixty-three.
Confidential's unexpected exposé on Frederica wasn't out of character for the magazine. It was the top tabloid dog in a very large kennel. It had an expansive staff, serious reporters, hundreds of informers spread across the U.S. and Britain, and published stories about heavy hitters from all sectors of society. It had a regressive political agenda, as its article filled with terrible slander against gays and lesbians makes clear, but even with its rightward slant it took pains to keep its reporting framework factual. That makes it a priceless source of contemporaneous info about public figures, particularly of the Hollywood variety. We doubt we'll ever stop buying it, because we never know who we'll find inside. Twenty-plus scans below.
Thanks for rescuing me. Don't untie me yet, though. First let me tell you about this kinky fantasy I've always had.
George Harmon Coxe's Murder in Havana was an easy buy for us—it was cheap and set in an exotic land. We were also drawn by its World War II backdrop, which made us fully expect Nazis, and we got them. The story concerns Andrew Talbot, who's in charge of a secret shipbuilding project. While he's out on the town someone breaks into his hotel room but somehow ends up dead five floors below. Talbot is relieved not to have been robbed of his top secret dox, but once he realizes the dead man hadn't been the only person in his room and his papers were photographed rather than stolen, he sets out to save his professional reputation and unmask the spies.
As required from this sort of tale, the hero meets a couple of beautiful women, interfaces fractiously with the local cops, gets knocked over the head, and drinks rum. Mysteries from this era can be wordy, but Coxe deserves credit—he keeps the action moving around Havana and avoids the pointless reiterations that can slow these books. The ending is fun, and multi-layered. There could be more local color and travelogue, and we aren't sure if we accept the idea of skeleton keys being purchaseable on the street, but overall Murder in Havana is quite entertaining. It was published in 1943 originally, with this Dell edition and its Barye Phillips cover art of a woman bound but incongruously smiling coming in 1950.
If he's German we're a couple of Midwestern turkey farmers.
Erhard von Sprecher, author of 1954's Les mains rouges, or “red hands,” is a pseudonym. Has to be, right? French mid-century policier and espionage authors loved pen names, so much so that few of the authors wrote under their real names. We're not sure why, but we suspect that they felt it gave their books credibility if they adopted American sounding names like Patrick Rock (Louis Valgrand), Jerry Lewray (Louis de la Hattais), Slim Harrisson (Jacques Dubessy), et al. In this case, the name von Sprecher was used to give this tale about an S.S. agent who refuses to admit the Third Reich lost World War II a sense of firsthand German reality, but he was almost certainly a French writer—though one so obscure there's no information out there. Maybe something will turn up later. In any case, we decided to feature this book not because of von Sprecher's name, interesting as that is, but because of the striking red hand art. And guess what? We can't find out who did that either. C'est comme cela que ça se passe.
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.
In New York City people of a certain class live on the Upper East Side. Stockbrokers, lawyers, Nazis...
This poster would have sucked us right through the moviehouse doors had we been around when it was on display. It has beautiful colors, an air of mystery, a nice design, and dramatic graphics. The House on 92nd Street, which starred William Eythe, Lloyd Nolan, and Signe Hasso (who we've seen a lot of lately), definitely doesn't rise to the level of the promo art. It qualifies as a propaganda film, though the events depicted are accurate. But with J. Edgar Hoover appearing briefly in the prologue, a stentorian narration, stilted dialogue, and a soundtrack that veers toward the martial, it's pretty hard to immerse yourself in what is undeniably a Hollywood-on-FBI stroke job.
If you take the plunge, the movie turns out to be about a German American student who is recruited by Nazis but instead becomes a double agent for the FBI during the period when World War II was raging in Europe but the U.S. wasn't militarily involved yet. German spies had been deployed around the U.S., and the movie deals with a particular group that gets wind of an important military secret, the secret of—dum dum duuuuuuum—the bomb. You know. The big bomb. The A-bomb. The nuke. The edge. The be-all. The end-all. The mushroom cloud layin', eyeball meltin', city flattenin', effervescently fissionatin' ordnance both Germany and the U.S. thought would win the war. Good premise, actually.
But since World War II was almost over when the film came out, the plot's outcome was a given. Did audiences feel any suspense? We aren't convinced. Even if the FBI hadn't routed out the spies, the skyrocketing Upper East Side real estate prices would have. The Nazis would have moved to the Bronx seeking cheaper rent. With the conclusion not in doubt, the movie's thrills needed to be provided by the audience's attachment to double agent Eythe, who's in constant danger of being outed and de-cortexed by a Luger slug. Unfortunately, he's mostly an empty suit, therefore the movie fails on that level. It was well reviewed in its day, but duh, critics need to eat too. We doubt many would have panned the movie at that time. But the lens of history is cruel and today the film is considered substandard.
The best aspect of The House on 92nd Street is Signe Hasso as the cast iron Frau Farbissina style bitch operating the nest of naughty Nazis, but she's not enough to save the production—nor ultimately the spy ring. If the filmmakers had ditched the narration, the scare music, the scare Hoover, and gone less procedural and more personal, maybe there would have been a good film in this somewhere, but as it turned out it's just a middling crime melodrama considered to be a fringy film noir—certainly one the genre could do without. The poster, though, remains very nice. The House on 92nd Street premiered today in 1945.
All Through the Night is Bogart at his best.
There's no single movie that made Humphrey Bogart a superstar—he built his brand with each outing. But surely All Through the Night was one of his most important pre-icon roles. You see its Italian promo poster above, which was painted by the great artist Luigi Martinati. We've featured Martinati often, and you can see his work here and here. After originally opening in the U.S. in 1942, All Through the Night premiered in Italy as Sesta colonna today in 1949. You can read more about the film here. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1916—Rockefeller Breaks the Billion Barrier
American industrialist John D. Rockefeller becomes America's first billionaire. His Standard Oil Company had gained near total control of the U.S. petroleum market until being broken up by anti-trust legislators in 1911. Afterward, Rockefeller used his fortune mainly for philanthropy, and had a major effect on medicine, education, and scientific research.
1941—Williams Bats .406
Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox finishes the Major League Baseball season with a batting average of .406. He is the last player to bat .400 or better in a season.
1964—Warren Commission Issues Report
The Warren Commission, which had been convened to examine the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's assassination, releases its final report, which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. Today, up to 81% of Americans are troubled
by the official account of the assassination.
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