Poor baby. If I'm making you cry now, just wait. I've got shit planned for you that'll really unleash the waterworks.
We said we'd get back to Paul Connolly's and here we are. This cover for his 1952 novel Tears Are for Angels was painted by Barye Phillips, and though skillful as always, it's deceptively plain for a book laden with doom, steeped in pending disaster, and populated by lost souls suffering in self-made hells. What you get here is a man named Harry London, whose shoot-first reaction to adultery comes at the heavy price of his amputated arm and his wife's life, due to his attempt to kill her lover going horribly awry. After two years of drinking himself into oblivion his chance for revenge comes along in the person of his dead wife's friend Jean, who signs onto London's long delayed murder scheme.
The book is a clinic in noir style, with characterizations pushed to the very darkest levels, like something James M. Cain thought up, then went, “Naaah! Too downbeat!” Self loathing and hate fucks make the book overwhelmingly malicious, then comes the wild murder scheme, which has WARNING! DISASTER AHEAD! across it in flashing letters. Additionally, the task Connolly sets for himself here is to make a beautiful woman's attraction to a drunken, reeking, one-armed ogre of a man seem plausible. He failed, as almost any writer would, but we have to give him credit—even though the romantic interaction between his leads is ridiculous, he makes turning each page an exercise in dread. That takes talent. Tears Are for Angels is a fascinating read.
So just out of curiosity, why aren't you paddling an Uber? Seems like everyone else is.
This spectacular cover for Thomas Sterling's Murder in Venice was painted by James Hill, an artist of obvious skill but one we rarely encounter. The book was originally published in 1955 as The Evil of the Day, with this beautiful Dell edition coming in 1959. Sterling tells the tale of a man named Cecil Fox who invites three guests from abroad to his Venetian mansion in order to pretend he's near death and tease them with the promise of inheriting his wealth. These three guests are people he's not had much contact with in recent years, which makes the game even more delicious for him, the way the trio feel plucked from their lives of obscurity to possibly be gifted wealth and status. Factions form and subterfuges abound, but everything is thrown into disarray when one of the guests is murdered. Was it to eliminate a possible inheritor? To add intrigue to the game? Or for other, unguessable reasons?
Go with option three. The whole point of murder mysteries is to be unguessable. Murder in Venice is a pretty good puzzler, with a small set of curious characters and a few forays into the Venetian night. Sterling gets inside the head of his protagonist Celia Johns quite effectively. She's the personal assistant to one of the invitees, and thus has no skin in the game. She just wants a fair wage for a fair day's work. At least that what she says. Her host Mr. Fox, on the other hand, seems to think everyone is corruptible, and everyone is money hungry—it's just a matter of baiting the hook in the right way. He thinks he knows most people better than they know themselves, and he doesn't see Celia as any sort of exception.
While Murder in Venice is a mystery, it's also a minor sociological examination of what it means to some people to be rich but face losing their money, and what it means to others to not value money at all. Sterling scored a success, but interestingly, he borrowed the idea from Ben Johnson's play Volpone, which premiered way back in 1606. Sterling was up front about his inspiration, and within his novel the play even makes an appearance on a drawing room shelf. Frederick Knott, who wrote the famed plays Wait Until Dark and Dial M for Murder, later adapted Sterling's novel into a 1959 play called Mr. Fox of Venice. The next year the book was published in France as Le Tricheur de Venise and won Sterling the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for foreign authors. And finally, Joseph Mankiewicz combined the original play, Sterling's novel, and Knott's play into a 1967 movie called The Honey Pot.
When material gets recycled to that extent, it's usually good, and Sterling does his part. He was a diplomat before becoming an author and lived in Italy for years, so we would have liked more color from someone who obviously knew Venice well, but he's an interesting writer even without the aid of scenery, as in this moment of musing from Celia: She said, “my sleep,” as though it were, “my dress,” or, “my ring.” It belonged to her. Every night had a certain amount, and if she lost it she was frantic. She had forgotten that sleep was not a thing, it was a country. You couldn't get it, you had to go there. And it was never lost. Sometimes you missed a train, but there was always another coming after. In the meantime, neither the green hills nor the nightmare forests ever changed. They stayed where they were and you went to them. And sooner or later you would go and not come back.
Sleaze novel suggests it's more fun for doctors to trick than to treat.
The only reason we took any notice of the 1975 sleaze novel Doctor's Dirty Tricks by Rand McTiernan is because Swedish actress Christina Lindberg is the cover star. That fact led to the thought process, “Well, we might as well read the thing and see what it's about.” It turns out it's about exactly what you'd think, except there are not one but two doctors—a dentist and a psychologist. They're pals, and both molest their patients. The dentist does it while they're gassed, and the shrink does it while they're hypnotized. The shrink considers himself a better breed, because, “You can't make someone do something under hypnosis they don't want to do.” The cover tagline describes this as being seduced, but the concept of seduction has nothing to do with this book at any point. Sleaze novels are usually pretty fun, with women often the main plot drivers, but then there's this kind too. Doctor's Dirty Tricks is a regressive male fantasy centered around helpless and insensate women. We'll take ours helpful and responsive. No thank you, Mr. McTiernan.
Her situation is already bad, but as it unfolds it gets even worse.
A woman in a dire situation stars on this cover for Jack Leech's 1963 sleaze novel Satan's Daughters (interestingly, while Leech is credited as author on the outside, John Trimble gets credit inside, so take your pick). The artist here is Bill Edwards, and this is another foldout effort he painted for Europa Books. We love these things, but we wish there were more. As we mentioned previously, there are probably only five.
You ever get the feeling the game is rigged?
Above is a 1950s Technicolor lithograph with an unknown model losing her shirt and more in a poker game. The litho is titled “Out of Luck,” and it came from the company KLM. There are about eighty of these in the site, but we have a few favorites. See if this selection doesn't grab you: here, here, and here.
Gosh, another broken down wreck of a man. Well, tonight I'm not being picky, so get your game face on, champ.
Georges Simenon was an incredibly prolific author who wrote two hundred books, starting at age seventeen, striking gold in 1931 when he invented the character of Inspector Jules Maigret. While he rode the honorable inspector like a sturdy horse for scores of outings, he also made the occasional splash with stand-alone books such as Four Days in a Lifetime, which you see above. It was originally published as Les Quatre Jours du pauvre homme in 1949, and is a tale narrated in two sections about lowly François Lecoin, who starts with little but achieves success via underhanded and amoral means. It's a rise and fall story, and a particularly turbulent one. The Signet edition came in 1953 with cover art by Stanley Zuckerberg.
This club is boring. I think we should let a few criminals join.
Above: a cover for Le club des détectives from Librairie Hatchette, 1947. The author, credited here only as Berkeley, is British writer Anthony Berkeley and this is a translation of his 1929 novel The Poisioned Chocolates Case. Berkeley's franchise detective Roger Sheringham has an informal club called the Crimes Circle where he and several pals regularly examine cases unsolved by Scotland Yard and try to deduce a solution. It's all fun and games until Sheringham recieves a box of chocolates, but gives them away, leading to a club member's wife being poisoned to death. Sheringham also wrote as Francis Iles and A. Monmouth Platts, and published more than a dozen novels. Owing to the time period, those books don't generally have the type of art that attracts us, but this French cover caught our eye.
Pack light and leave your inhibitions behind.
This poster was made in Liege, Belgium for the romantic drama Extase, starring Austro-Hungarian beauty Hedy Lamarr. Based on a novel by the Vienna born author and actor Robert Horký, the film opened in Belgium today in 1933, after having premiered in then-Czechoslovakia as Ekstase in January of that year. It isn't a pulp style film, but it's significant, which is why we had a look. It's about a young upper class woman in an unfulfilling marriage who solves that problem by acquiring a sidepiece in the form of a worker played by Aribert Mog. This results in some steamy moments and—some viewers say—the first orgasm ever depicted onscreen. “Some viewers” are right. There's no doubt. In the midst of a nocturnal tryst Mog's head and torso slide off-frame, as Lamarr breathes more and more heavily before finally grimacing in lovely fashion and snapping her string of pearls.
Yeah, this is hot stuff for 1933. And we thought everyone was having a great depression. Shows what we know. If the title Extase doesn't tell you what's going on, consider the fact that Hedy's character is named Eva, and Mog's is named Adam. It's that kind of movie. In a way, an orgasm was inevitable. Lamarr also captures moviegoers' attention with a nude swim and sprint through the fields that occurs about twenty-eight minutes in. Why's she running around starkers? Her mare Loni decides to get herself some equine action and abandons Hedy—taking her clothes along for the ride. Always make sure to tie your mount to something, especially when it's horny. Lamarr really is naked in the scene, too, which few modern performers would do in this age of new puritanism. It's thanks to this run through the wild that she meets Mog, the eventual master of her clitoris, if not her heart.
Extase isn't a silent film, but it's close. There's a lot of orchestral music and only a dozen or so sections of dialogue. Even so, it's very watchable. The visuals tend to be laden with meaning in films such as these, but some scenes require no interpretation at all, like the bit where a couple of horses mate (not Loni and her love, sadly). They don't show it of course, but the crash zoom of a mare's backside from the point-of-view of the stud horse gets the idea across with remarkable subtlety—not. It was hilarious, actually. But hey—even horses feel extase, because it's just a natural thing, see. On its own merits we'd call Extase more of a curio than a cinematic triumph, but it certainly achieves what it sets out to do, and that's success of a form, even if it would be forgotten without the orgasm. But that's often true, isn't it?
Loni! Come back, you stupid horse! That jumpsuit doesn't even fit you! Why hello, lovely naked creature. You rude beast! Try taking a picture. It'll last longer. Already done. With my mind. Deposited you right in the spank bank. Bank— What? Spank what? Oh, never mind. Give me my clothes. Objectify me, will you? Two can play that game. Duh... nice package! Duh... I'm an idiot! Thanks. And you're not an idiot—many women agree with you about my package. No, I'm objectifying you, like you did to me. Like a sex object. I understand. That's cool. I love sex. No, I mean I'm debasing you via the reduction of any unique and admirable qualities you might have down to the purely phy— Oh, forget it! You're too dumb to understand. Oh... oh... oh! It's true he lacks... formal education... But he sure knows how... to make a girl... SNAP HER PEARLS! *sigh*
She's okay when she's good but she's better when she's bad.
How could we not buy a book called Gilda? Rea Michaels' 1964 novel, with its uncredited art of a woman who looks like a burlesque dancer, is obviously not related to the classic film noir, but we figured anyone who'd appropriate the title probably wrote something interesting. Well, it's that, alright. Basically, a film director named Marc Sanders who drank away his career locates a good script and attempts a comeback, but there are several problems: the only financial backing he can garner comes from a gangster, he can't get a distribution deal, and he has creative differences with the screenwriter.
Then there's Gilda Moore, who has also fallen on hard times and convinces him to let her star in the movie. She's a sex addict and is almost guaranteed to sink Sanders' chance for professional redemption, but she's also inexpensive and talented. Can he actually make a good movie with a star who consumes male crewmembers like oatmeal cookies? Though Michaels is no literary wiz, everything she does here works, particularly the way she writes the film's mounting problems. Those reach absurd proportions, even to the extent of a location shoot causing a riot. On the negative side, Gilda is tame for a book that bills itself as sleaze, but that's okay—we've read far worse.
Ever wake up but feel like you're still having a nightmare?
In vintage crime fiction getting the hero laid—or at least having the opportunity arise—is almost a mandatory requirement. The main character of Evan Hunter's, aka Ed McBain's, 1952 novel The Evil Sleep is a heroin addict who, at a certain point, has had cold and hot sweats all day long, hasn't showered, shaved, or brushed his teeth, yet manages to get laid by a clean, beautiful woman. This was a dead giveaway that she was shady, and dead giveaways in mysteries are something authors should avoid. Even so, The Evil Sleep is an interesting book. It's about a junkie who wakes up with a corpse, and must dodge the police, find the real murderer, and get a fix, or somehow keep his shit together without one. It was later published as So Nude, So Dead. The cover you see here, which is unattributed, came from an auction site. Our copy, which came cheap as part of a lot, is basically coverless. By which we mean the femme fatale was cut completely out, probably to end up as part of some high-school art student's collage that has long since gone to a landfill. Very naughty. If you want to buy this in good condition the price might run $400. That's even naughtier.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1924—Leopold and Loeb Murder Bobby Franks
Two wealthy University of Chicago students named Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. murder 14-year-old Bobby Franks, motivated by no other reason than to prove their intellectual superiority by committing a perfect crime. But the duo are caught and sentenced to life in prison. Their crime becomes known as a "thrill killing", and their story later inspires various works of art, including the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, and Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film of the same name.
1916—Rockwell's First Post Cover Appears
The Saturday Evening Post publishes Norman Rockwell's painting "Boy with Baby Carriage", marking the first time his work appears on the cover of that magazine. Rockwell would go to paint many covers for the Post, becoming indelibly linked with the publication. During his long career Rockwell would eventually paint more than four thousand pieces, the vast majority of which are not on public display due to private ownership and destruction by fire.
1962—Marilyn Monroe Sings to John F. Kennedy
A birthday salute to U.S. President John F. Kennedy takes place at Madison Square Garden, in New York City. The highlight is Marilyn Monroe's breathy rendition of "Happy Birthday," which does more to fuel speculation that the two were sexually involved than any actual evidence.
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