70’s Decadence

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From Vs. magazine’s Fall-Winter 2014/15 issue, an intriguing homage to all that’s decadent in fashion photography – bad boy Helmut Newton, badder-girl Ellen Von Unwerth, and a nod to the 1978 erotic crime thriller Eyes Of Laura Mars (more about that guilty pleasure weird-fest of a flick at thestilettogumshoe.com later…count on it).

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The photo suite’s introductory copy explains: “In the cult movie Eyes Of Laura Mars, Faye Dunaway plays a photographer who can see through the eyes of a killer. Here, our cover girl Uma Thurman – a modern-day Dunaway – embodies the thriller’s title role and pays homage to its seductive 70’s styling and provocative imagery (the movie featured stills by Helmut Newton). Who better to capture this iconic marriage of fashion and film than Newton’s seminal successor, Ellen Von Unwerth?”

Well, I’ve seen Von Unwerth get both saucier and nastier than these, and the staged photo shoots, stills and grisly murders in the 1978 film pushed the limits for the time, presaging a host of disturbing visuals soon to populate countless VHS tapes in the ‘erotic thriller’ craze of the early 80’s. But Von Unwerth and Thurman captured some vintage decadence here, to be sure.

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The Rusty Heller Story

Elizabeth Montgomery The Rusty Heller Story

Everyone probably knows Elizabeth Montgomery (1933 – 1995), daughter of Hollywood golden age actor/director Robert Montgomery, as suburban mom and housewife – and witch – Samantha Stephens in the long-running sixties sitcom Bewitched (1964 – 1972). She got her start on Broadway about ten years earlier, and worked primarily in dramatic roles on many different television series, playing everything from pioneers to jewel thieves. One such early but memorable role is in the second season premier episode of The Untouchables (1959 – 1963), titled “The Rusty Heller Story”, for which she was nominated for an Emmy, the first of nine nominations. Forget the witch’s wiggling nose; Montgomery’s Rusty Heller is a sizzling performance, series star Robert Stack’s favorite episode, this being the only time his no-nonsense Elliot Ness became emotionally involved with a character. Watch The Rusty Heller Story if you can, and you’ll see why even hard as nails Ness fell for her.

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Montgomery plays a wily southern gal transplanted to Prohibition era Chicago, frustrated by her demeaning job as a costumed performer in a nightclub/brothel, very well aware of her sexual allure and eager to put it to work to trade up. With Al Capone in the clink and mobsters jockeying to take over the Chicago mob, Rusty sees an opportunity to use her charms to manipulate first a big time racketeer, then his lawyer and then a mob accountant, while concurrently feeding info to the Feds. And that’s how she meets – and promptly falls hard for the stoic Elliot Ness, who surprisingly falls for her too, ‘bad girl’ or not.

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But the relationship’s doomed, as is Rusty herself, and a climactic gun fight between the mobsters and the Untouchables squad ends with Montgomery’s Rusty Heller catching a slug in the back, then dying in Ness’ arms. It’s pretty powerful stuff for period television, showcasing what a terrific dramatic actor Montgomery really was, though we know her best as an equally good comedienne. Anecdotally, the mob lawyer Montgomery’s Rusty Heller neatly wraps ‘round her little finger is played by actor David White, who’d soon work with her throughout Bewitched’s run, playing advertising agency McMann & Tate’s managing partner and husband Darren Stephens boss, Larry Tate.

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The Untouchables’ “The Rusty Heller Story” is ranked in the top 100 of TV Guide’s Best Series Episodes list. Pretty sure this one’s on YouTube and elsewhere, and well worth watching.

The Untouchables

And, More Manhunt.

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See the preceding post…

As mentioned in the prior post, I’m eagerly waiting for (and have already pre-ordered) The Best of Manhunt – A Collection Of The Best Of Manhunt Magazine, a forthcoming book due out this summer. But till then, enjoy a few more cover scene shots culled from here and there, and dig the list of authors the magazine showcased. Impressive!

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Manhunt

The Best of Manhunt

I think it’s great that publishers promote forthcoming titles in advance. But I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to wait until late July for The Best Of Manhunt. Subtitled: “A Collection Of The Best of Manhunt Magazine”, the book is edited by Jeff Vorzimmer, with a foreword by writer Lawrence Block and an afterword by Barry Malzberg, and collects 39 stories from the pages of mid-1950’s pulp magazine that many rightly regard as one of the very best of mystery/crime fiction magazines.

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The pulp magazine era had mostly died by the time Manhunt magazine debuted in 1952. Mystery and crime fiction migrated to the new and booming paperback market in the postwar era, their garish, spicy covers replaced on the newsstands by countless ‘true crime’ magazines, many of which soon switched to increasingly explicit photo covers and ‘fact-based’ stories full of gruesome and period-sexy photographs.

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But Manhunt magazine continued to offer monthly doses of hard-boiled short stories and serialized novels from the era’s best writers. Just look at the covers of a few issues…they read like a who’s who of postwar mystery/crime fiction masters: James Cain, Harlan Ellison, Bruno Fischer, Fletcher Flora, David Goodis, Brett Haillday, Evan Hunter, Frank Kane, Henry Kane, Richard Prather, Mickey Spillane, Jack Webb and others. In fact, the magazine even did it’s own ‘best of’ as a Perma Books paperback (see image below) with 13 stories from its pages.

The Best From Manhunt

I may get a real kick out of vintage crime fiction, particularly of the postwar hard-boiled variety, and have bought a number of 1930’s-40’s pulp reprints and trade paperback collections. Doing so has taught me that a lot of the content didn’t quite meet the expectations of the cover art, and was, in fact, kind of dreary. I’m acquisitive, but fortunately, no collector, and unwilling to hand over serious cash for seventy-year-old magazines with questionable contents.

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One nearby used bookstore occasionally shelves vintage magazines and had a few copies of Manhunt for sale ($25 to $40 each as I recall) and though I didn’t buy, I was allowed to browse, and can say that Manhunt at least looked a cut above the hurried cut-n-paste hack jobs that many of its ‘true crime’ contemporaries really were. But I know from reading about it at many a blog, site and mystery/crime fiction book that Manhunt was considered the one postwar pulp title that gathered together some of the era’s very best talents.

Oh, I’m pre-ordering this book, you can bet on that, five months to wait or not. Till then, enjoy some retro mayhem from the covers of Manhunt magazine, here and in the following post.

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Comics Couture

The Haute Life Bruce Weber Shalom Harlow Vogue 1995 2

Fashion magazine creative directors, art directors, stylists and the fashion photographers they engage try some pretty outré things and hunt out truly unlikely locations, from jungles to rooftops, back alleys to motel rooms and abandoned factories. But I’m reasonably sure I’ve never seen anything set in a comic book shop. The copy says the image (or the outfit?) is inspired by that first of ‘supermodels’ from the 1950’s, Suzy Parker. Uhm, okay. Shalom Harlow is shot here by Bruce Weber for an editorial called “The Haute Life” for Vogue back in 1995. Nice dress and all, even with the Spiderman brooch. I’ll take the EC Comics reprints on the bottom shelf though.

Blackjacked & Pistol-Whipped

Crime Does Not Pay

The Crime Does Not Pay comic book series debuted in 1942, the first of its kind to publish such unvarnished, gritty, violent crime tales in a marketplace that had become saturated with good-guys and their sidekicks flitting around in capes and tights, following the success of Superman, Batman and other costumed ‘superheroes’. The title lasted till 1955, though it was pretty watered down by then, following the parental and even Congressional scrutiny of the comic book marketplace.

This handsome trade pb from Dark Horse Books includes two dozen beautifully reproduced vintage Crime Does Not Pay tales, along with an introduction by Brian Azzarello and an informative essay by Denis Kitchen, which details one of the comic’s founders (Bob Wood) own criminal legacy: He arrested for the gruesome murder of his lover in New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel. Seriously, it’s a real life story straight out of Crime Does Not Pay comics. Even 70+ years later, these stories are still pretty, rough, tough and violent. Just how ‘true’ they are…well, who cares?

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A Touch Of Noir

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Just a touch, mind you. Selected images from the photo suite titled “A Touch Of Noir” by Galli-Trevisan Photographers, from the Milan Fashion Photographers site. (Images (c) Galli-Trevisan)

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The Big Blowdown

The Big Blowdown - Richie Fahey Cover art

There’s a long list of George Pelecanos’ projects that I adore: Novels, short stories, television scripts.

But my favorite remains The Big Blowdown, his 1999 tale of two Washington DC friends (including Nick Stefanos, the Pelecanos character who’s crossed-over into more than one project) set in a post-WWII world of realistically drawn blue-collar Greek neighborhoods filled with rich renderings of everyday people who live and work alongside the small-time mobsters who really run things. Some have compared Pelecanos’ early novels to James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, and I won’t argue. They share a spare yet darkly poetic writing style and focus on a specific time, place and cast of characters. How he continues to create excellent books while concurrently working as a writer/producer for high-visibility projects like The Wire, The Pacific and The Deuce among others is beyond me. A person can only do so much. Somehow, Pelecanos does still more.

For me, this particular novel has been a kind of tutorial on how a master wordsmith handles an ethnic milieu, something I’m working with (different ethnicity, but still) in my own projects. Obviously, Pelecanos does it better than many, and better than anything I could ever hope for.

The Big Blowdown will get a careful re-read someday. I’ll just need to give it some time so I can forget the specifics and discover it all anew. As an aside, the nifty Richie Fahey cover art on my well-worn trade pb edition shown above doesn’t hurt.

Lichtspiele

Alexi Lubomirski

No one’s advocating smoking, so don’t comment with nasty remarks. Lets face it, traditional film noir or even cliched ‘noir culture’ is more or less a smoke-fest, and whatever the health hazards and general evil-ness of the addiction, smoking does make for some stunning images.

Here, Alexi Lubomirski shoots model Constance Jablonski for Vogue Germany back in 2013 for an editorial called “Lichtspiele”, a series of striking images reminiscent of 1930’s film studio backstage and glamour shots.

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