Gestapo goes to extraordinary lengths to cancel a Czech.
This striking poster for Hangmen Also Die might make you think you're dealing with a death row film noir, but it's actually a war drama about the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. When a Czech assassin played by Brian Donlevy shoots the country's cruel German administrator Reinhard Heydrich and escapes into Prague's urban maze, the Nazis start executing people to force the population to turn over the shooter. As people die Donlevy struggles over whether to turn himself in. This was made in 1943 and qualifies as war propaganda, complete with flourishes such as discordant brass when Hitler's portrait appears onscreen, and a cheeseball closing song with a chorus of, “No surrender!” And to just bang the war drum even more, the movie premiered in, of all places, Prague, Oklahoma today in 1943, and the showing featured hanged effigies of Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini, while regional politicians made a point of attending. That must have been some night.
But while Hangmen Also Die may qualify as propaganda, it certainly isn't untrue in any major sense. The film's two architects, German director Fritz Lang and German writer Bertolt Brecht, both left their homeland to avoid the Nazis, and we can only imagine that their personal experiences made this project deeply important to them. But even people working from personal experience need help, and they get a major boost from co-star Walter Brennan. You'll sometimes read about him being a great character actor and this movie proves it. Watch him in this, then as the drunkard Eddie in To Have and Have Not, and you'll find him physically unrecognizable. Only his distinctive voice identifies him as the same person. Meanwhile it's Donlevy who's asked to personify the classic moral dilemma of sacrifice for the greater good, and he's mostly successful at portraying it as a heavy burden. While we wouldn't call Hangmen Also Die a great movie, there's no doubt it occupies its niche comfortably.
Sorry to disappoint you, but we're into each other.
Well no, Leonhard Frank's novella Desire Me isn't about two men in love, but we think it should be, based on the cover art. It's actually a story centered around a clever idea that has been borrowed often since it was first written by Frank in 1926 as the play Karl und Anna. Basically, two men in a prison camp have plenty of idle time to get to know each other. The married prisoner speaks in detail about his wife. When the unmarried one escapes, he seeks out the married one's wife and the two fall in love. Naturally the husband, who his pal had claimed was dead, eventually resurfaces in the town to complicate matters.
This prison identity theft concept is the basis or backstory of many movies, including The House on Telegraph Hill. Returning from presumed wartime death to ruin a wife's new love affair has also been used often, notably in Casablanca. Frank was considered a leading German writer, but his legacy was destroyed when his books were burned by the Nazis before World War II. He actually wrote about this later and noted that even though Hitler lost the war, he largely succeeded in altering Germany's literary history, because many of the authors whose works were burned never regained their former stature. Frank's is a cautionary example about censorship—governments do it because it works.
Donut makers learn something bitter about their past.
Interesting story out of the world of donuts/doughnuts this week, as the Reimann family, originators of Krispy Kreme, (which makes by far the best tasting confections in America), were given a little surprise, and not of the sweet variety. An article in the German tabloid Bild outed the family's ancestors as Nazis. The story is notable because these ancestors weren't just footsoldiers or dull functionaries typing forms in triplicate, but full blown Aryan racists who used slave labor in their business and amassed a huge fortune doing it (that may sound familiar to people on the U.S. side of the ocean, as well). Apparently the family used female Russian and French prisoners, who they beat, sexually abused, and made strip naked for inspections. In July 1937 Albert Reimann, Jr. wrote to SS leader and Holocaust architect Heinrich Himmler and stated that his business was “a purely Aryan family business that is over 100 years old.” He also wrote that, “The owners are unconditional followers of the race theory.”
Reimann, Jr., who you see below, passed much of his fortune along to nine adopted children, four of whom now retain shares of the Krispy Kreme empire. Amazingly, the topping on this tale is that the source of all the info appears to be an ancestry check the family itselfcommissioned on their father. Wealthy clans generally have a firm understanding of their own family tree, what with all the money involved and the potential for virtually anyone to come out of the woodwork claiming to be a twelfth cousin or granddaughter of a patriarch's mistress, but in the case of adoptive children, putting the entire puzzle together sometimes happens later in life or not at all. In any case, the Reimann family, which holds approximately $37 billion in assets, announced that it would give $11 million to charity, or about %0.0003 of the estimated family fortune. Hey, every little bit helps.
Ah hah! There you are, Stabsgefreiter Schultz, out of uniform and with Unterfeldwebel Dietrich's wife, no less.
Nazis ruin everything—even romantic seaside trysts. As it happens though, the scene depicted on this cover of J. Bigelow Clark's The Dreamers never occurs, and in fact these characters must have come from the imagination of artist Stanley Borack, because in terms of their physical characteristics, they don't exist in the narrative at all. The book was originally published in 1945, with this Perma paperback edition appearing in 1955. The story involves four idealistic expatriates living on the small fictional Italian island of Campagna during World War II. Their only intention is escapism in a place of beauty and peace. Then the Nazis show up. And ruin everything.
This book is brilliant, but it will be problematic for some readers because the villain Captain Muller—and he's a very, very bad guy—is gay. His sexuality is a metaphor. As a German officer his incredibly high opinion of himself has primarily to do with his control over and manipulation of men. While some artists use paint or words, he feels he's a Picasso or Titian using humans—the most difficult medium of all—to produce more concrete effects upon civilization than mere visual art does. And his ultimate expression of oneness with his medium is sexual congress with them. Clark's final postulation is that for many men of war, and particularly fascists, violence is a form of eroticism.
Other elements here are also metaphorical, even the island itself. Though the expats, among them an elderly British professor and a German baron, are of different ages and cultures, they become fast friends. Their island is not perfect. There is want and conflict. But without being indoctrinated into the ways of hate people generally help, or at least tolerate, each other. The island represents the possibility of smooth human coexistence. But Captain Muller's purpose is to exert control through violence and fear. He's immediately interested in and drawn to the four expats, and shrewdly understands that the group's relationship with two locals—a legless veteran of the North Africa front and a beautiful young mother—may be the key to achieving his goals.
While all this is going on an American spy arrives on the island and sets into motion a plot to steal diagrams of the submarine bases the Germans are building. The narrative focuses on the professor's and baron's efforts to remain uninvolved, but also follows how a promisethey've made to get the young mother and her child off the island draws them all, bit by terrible bit, into the war against their will. Transitioning from apathy to activism is a standard theme in literature and film, but Clark manages to navigate this course with rare skill. As it develops, The Dreamers generates squirm inducing intensity, almost akin to psychological horror.
But the book's value is in more than just its bold narrative. As time goes by people's knowledge of history comes not from those who lived through it, but from interpreters of it. When conducted under rigorous standards, re-examinations of history are useful and even necessary, but many of this group are not rigorous, and have shady political motives. In the U.S. this manifests as fanciful spins on slavery, the Civil War, and other periods. Many American schoolchildren are now being taught that fascism is the exact opposite of what it was in reality. The Dreamers, written during the fascist era, is clear about what fascism is, how it works, what it seeks to accomplish, and what end of the political spectrum it comes from. Every novel we've read from this period is consistent on these points.
Thus in addition to being a very good book, The Dreamers is yet another reminder that: Mussolini was well liked for years in the U.S. because he was perceived to have saved Italy from communists. Regardless of whether Adolf Hitler had any religious beliefs in private life, the German people knew him as a Catholic, he constantly invoked God in his speeches, and the Holocaust was abetted by people who were overwhelmingly religious. Fascism was vehemently sexist, racist, patriotic, and anti-liberal. Fascism distrusted diplomacy, independent knowledge, and a questioning press, replacing them with aggression, indoctrination, and propaganda. And like all governing systems, fascism was ultimately opportunistic, borrowing any political idea that helped consolidate power.
One benefit of maintaining Pulp Intl. is constantly reading books written contemporaneously with historical events and learning how they were perceived by people who lived through them. The Dreamers has extra value because of this. It's homophobic, though Clark's use of a gay villain is intended to coalesce into metaphor. His scathing attitude toward Germans, on the other hand, never does. It seems as if he hates them en masse. His protagonists often muse about German moral shortcomings. These condemnations of an entire people are an obvious case of turnabout is fair play, and one can hardly be surprised considering what the world was learning about Hitler's atrocities. The Dreamers remains an illuminating reading experience.
Which one liked to wallow in crap more? National Examiner or Adolf Hitler?
National Examiner offers up a provocative cover on this issue that hit newsstands today in 1973, with an unidentified blonde model and the promise of expert lovemaking tips. Nothing new there. What's different is this issue takes Adolf Hitler's corpse for a gallop around a well-traveled track. The article “Hitler's Strange Desires” digs into der Führer's toilet training, his family background, his private writings and public statements, and comes to the conclusion: sexual pervert! The piece discusses Hitler's “sexual inadequacy and impotence, frail body and softness that was almost effeminate,” and reveals how he doted on his mother but eventually felt betrayed by her, stating, “This sudden indignation with his mother could have been caused if he saw his parents having intercourse.” The ultimate conclusion is no surprise: “[Because of] his extreme form of masochism [he derived] sexual gratification from the act of having a woman urinate or defecate on him.”
As psychological disturbances go, you can take your pick here. Like beer in a Berlin rathskeller, Hitler allegedly had multiple flavors on tap, and they culminated in turning him into a shit freak. That's amusing to consider, but was it anything other than pure bullshit itself? Labeling Hitler a disturbed child-turned sexual deviant was a mini-industry in the decades after his death, and the rumors started by these reports are still prevalent today. We get it—by making him into a non-human it's easyto distance him from the rest of us, but as far as we know there's no evidence he was anything other than a heterosexual who had run-of-the-mill sex, or for that matter that he was anything other than a run-of-the-mill human. Many people would love for the stories to be true, but they're just too easy. We don't blame Examiner for beating that Hitler horse, though. Everybody did it—it sold piles of papers.
Examiner goes for lighter material elsewhere in the issue, with an update on the whereabouts of Canadian actress Ruby Keeler, a story about a wife who makes her husband take her to a swingers club so she can get some strange dick, and a pervy advertisement for instant peepholes we know would be illegal to use today, and which we suspect were illegal to use back then too. Other celebrities who make appearances include Maria LaTour and Monika Zinnenberg. In fact, on closer examination that unidentified cover model might be Zinnenberg. She made the usual slate of bad West German comedies and exploitation flicks during the ’60s and ’70s before leveraging her front-of-the-camera work into a directing career which she sustained all the way up until 2012. And finally there's a centerspread on the benefits of yoga, featuring stars like Cary Grant, Geraldine Chaplain, and Barbara Parkins touting its benefits. That's about it for this Examiner. Scans below, and more here and here.
Nobody knows who'll win the game of Thorne's.
Yes, she's back. These posters were made for the 1977 naziploitation flick Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia, starring the inimitable Dyanne Thorne dealing out discomfort and death in the icy wastes of Gulag 14. In 1975's Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS she was a member of the Third Reich, but here, only eight years after the Reich cratered, she's somehow employed by the Nazis' mortal enemies the Soviets. She must have nailed the interview.
Interviewer: “What's your greatest strength, professionally?”
Ilsa: “Creatively making people suffer. Like the electrified dildo I invented at a previous gig. That's standard gear for torture now. Stress positions, beatings. I mean, I love it all.”
Interviewer: “What would you say is your biggest weakness?”
Ilsa: “I sometimes work too hard. I'm a perfectionist. In a way, I'm harder on myself than I am on the people I torture.”
Interviewer: “Tell me about a challenge in a work situation, and how you dealt with it.”
Ilsa: “I had a prisoner who was problematic. His positivity was bringing hope to the camp. I had him castrated.”
Interviewer: “And did this solution work?”
Ilsa: “Yes, he became very negative.”
Interviewer: “I think I've heard enough. When can you start?”
Ilsa: “I already did. I took the initiative and killed the other applicants in the waiting room."
It's amazing that the first Ilsa flick generated two sequels, considering how bad it was. This third entry in the series actually played at the Sitges Film Festival in October 2018, which just goes to show that interest in terrible vintage sexploitation films runs beyond the fringe. We think this movie is almost as bad as the original, but you can decide for yourself. After opening in Canada in 1977, Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia premiered in Japan today in 1978.
A stranger in strange lands comes to know pure evil.
Because Eric Ambler's 1939 thriller The Mask of Dimitrios is the source of the classic 1944 film noir of the same name starring Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, we should have read it long ago, but better late than never. The book tells the story of a writer in Istanbul who becomes interested in a killer, smuggler, slaver, and political agitator known as Dimitrios Makropoulos. In hopes of finding inspiration the writer begins to piece together the life of this mystery man.
The investigation carries him from Istanbul to Sofia to Geneva and beyond. That sounds exotic, but the story is almost entirely driven by external and internal dialogues, with little effort spent bringing alive its far flung locales. While we see that as a missed opportunity, and the book could be shorter considering so much of the aforementioned dialogue fails to further illuminate matters, it's fascinating how Dimitrios is slowly pieced together. Here's a line to remember, as the main character Latimer reflects upon the modern age and what the world is becoming:
“The logic of Michelangelo's David and Beethoven's quartets and Einstein's physics had been replaced by that of The Stock Exchange Yearbook and Hitler's Mein Kampf.”
That isn't one you'd soon forget. Ambler sees casino capitalism and Nazism as twin signposts on a road to perdition built by people like Dimitrios. We can't even imagine that being written by a popular author today without controversy, but Ambler, writing in England during the late 1930s, had zero trouble identifying exactly what he was looking at. This Great Pan edition of The Mask of Dimitrios appeared many years later in 1961, and it has unusual but effective cover art from S. R. Boldero.
Girl meets girl and things get a little twisted.
You'd be surprised how many Japanese movie posters feature swastikas. Or backwards ones, anyway. This particular promo was made for the melodrama Manji, a movie known in English by the name Swastika, or sometimes All Mixed Up. Some of you out there might be saying right now that the crooked cross Westerners know as a Nazi symbol is also a Native American symbol, though turned backward. And you'd be right. Others of you may say it's an ancient Sanskrit symbol, whether turned backward or forward. And you'd also be right. Still others of you, the more widely traveled perhaps, know that in Japan the backward swastika is a symbol used to mark the location of Buddhist temples on maps. And what the hell, we should also mention that younger Japanese sometimes say “manji” instead of “cheese” when posing for a photo.
Why did we go into all that? Because when you put a swastika on your website it's prudent to explain why. There is no discussion of the symbol in Manji. The film is about bored housewife Kyôko Kishida embarking on an affair with a younger woman played by Ayako Wakao. It's all fun and games at first, but Kishida, in the grip of middle age and an unfulfilling marriage, grows increasingly obsessed with her young girltoy. The movie's makers seem to be using the cross ironically—in Sanskrit it symbolizes good luck, but the affair in Manji is anything but. You can find out yourself, though, because the entire thing is on YouTube for the moment—with English subtitles!—at this link. Say goodbye to ninety minutes of your life, cinephiles. Manji premiered in Japan today in 1964.
My colleagues would be shocked if they knew the perverse pleasure I take in not washing my hands.
Does he go naked under his smock? Does he prefer Merlot over Syrah? What exactly is the doctor hiding? His secret is—spoiler alert!—he isn't really a doctor. Gerbrand was a year from finishing medical school when World War II swept him up and he found himself serving as a Wehrmacht medic, first in battle, and later in concentration camps. That's a serious secret. We were thinking about other terrible secrets doctors could have. If we were being treated by Gerbrand, here are five more things we'd hate to discover.
He took the Hippocratic Oath with his fingers crossed.
He gets a bizarre sexual thrill from giving injections.
No matter what time your appointment is he has his receptionist let you in an hour later.
During chest surgery he squeezes patients' hearts and makes quacking noises.
He knows exactly where Hitler's other ball is.
Anyway, during the war Gerbrand learns everything a real doctor would, and then some. When peace comes he lands a job as a surgeon in West Germany, becomes known and respected, and has romantic liaisons with upper crusty women. But his secret will come out and when it does he'll be in trouble bigtime. We won't tell you how it turns out, because that would require a second spoiler alert, and one per write-up is our limit. The book was originally published in 1955 as Without Sanction, and this retitled Dell paperback came in 1959 with cover art by James Hill.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1953—Jomo Kenyatta Convicted
In Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta is sentenced to seven years in prison by the nation's British rulers for being a member of the Mau Mau Society, an anti-colonial movement. Kenyatta would a decade later become independent Kenya's first prime minister, and still later its first president.
1974—Hank Aaron Becomes Home Run King
Major League Baseball player Hank Aaron hits his 715th career home run, surpassing Babe Ruth's 39-year-old record. The record-breaking homer is hit off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and with that swing Aaron puts an exclamation mark on a twenty-four year journey that had begun with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League, and would end with his selection to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame.
1922—Teapot Dome Scandal Begins
In the U.S., Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall leases the Teapot Dome petroleum reserves in Wyoming to an oil company. When Fall's standard of living suddenly improves, it becomes clear he has accepted bribes in exchange for the lease. The subsequent investigation leads to his imprisonment, making him the first member of a presidential cabinet to serve jail time.
1930—Gandhi Leads Satyagraha March
In India, Mahatma Gandhi raises a lump of mud and salt and declares, "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire." His words, which were a protest against the British salt tax, mark the beginning of the Satyagraha March, which in turn triggers the wider Civil Disobedience Movement that ultimately culminates in Indian independence.
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