Sienkiewicz’ Natasha

bill sienkiewicz black widow

Call her Natalia Alianovna Romanova, call her by her alias, Natasha Romanoff. Better still, call her Marvel’s Black Widow, here rendered by artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

Noir Alley Is Back

Noir Alley 1

Noir Alley returned to TCM in March, last night showing John Huston’s 1940 classic High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. Turner Classic Movies’ Saturday night feature was on hiatus in February and sorely missed ‘round here. If behaving, and at home working on a Saturday evening, it’s right around 11:00 PM when even I’ve had enough and need a break, and what a perfect break Noir Alley is.

Noir Alley 2

A spinoff of TCM’s 2015 ‘Summer Of Darkness’ film noir series, Noir Alley is hosted by novelist and non-fiction author, Noir City Film Noir Festival host and Film Noir Foundation founder and president, Eddie Muller, who provides intriguing and fact-filled introductions to each film. The series shows its share of the classics you’d expect, of course, but also some lesser-known films that aren’t always at the top of everyone’s list. Next week it’ll be Lady In The Lake and later in April there’ll be John Payne and Evelyn Keyes in 99 River Street and Ann Sheridan in Woman On The Run among others.

High Sierra Montage

High Sierra was a perfect wind-down to a productive Saturday for me, Ida Lupino one of my absolute favorite classic Hollywood era actresses, and she couldn’t be better than she was here as taxi dancer Marie Garson, hooking up with gangster Roy Earle played by Humphrey Bogart. And what can you say about Bogart? He’s Bogart, after all, and this film was a breakthrough for the actor, leading to The Maltese Flacon, Casablanca and so many other classic roles. High Sierra, based on William R. Burnett’s novel of the same name and co-written by Burnett and director John Huston, isn’t film noir in the sense of shadowy rooms, dark urban alleys and rain soaked tenement lined streets. It’s mostly set in…well, the High Sierras, after all. But it’s noir embodied nonetheless (even though the term wasn’t in use yet) with it’s overwhelming sense of fatalism, foreshadowing, and both Bogart’s and Lupino’s desperate and unfulfilled quest for freedom. Like so many films of the era, there are some cringe-worthy racial stereotypes inserted for some poorly chosen comic relief, and it gets increasingly difficult to process those bits.

Anecdote: Pard, the cute pup that foreshadows doom for all, but especially for hard-as-nails yet soft-as-velvet taxi dancer Marie Garson and world-weary gangster ‘Mad Dog Roy Earl, was actually Humphrey Bogart’s own real-life pet dog, Zero.

TCM’s Noir Alley hosted by dark-renaissance man Eddie Muller…guess where I’ll be next Saturday at 11:00.

Petty Girl, Packing A Pistol

george petty

Slickly airbrushed “Petty Girls” may have been artist George Petty’s (1894 – 1975) specialty for Esquire magazine’s mid-twentieth century centerfolds, but he was quite capable of letting a subject keep her dress on and turn into an elegant (and armed) femme fatale.

City of Fear: Patricia Blair And My Manuscript’s 1959 Reference Manual.

Patricia Blair City Of Fear 1959

Maybe you could call it a ‘noir’, or perhaps a post-noir, though it’d be a stretch, but more likely most would consider Columbia’s 1959 City Of Fear another so-so thriller with an inexplicable cult following. I refer to it periodically because it’s set in the same year as the projects I’m working on: 1959.

City of Fear 1959 Poster

Despite the Los Angeles setting, this film really captures the look and ‘feel’ of much of what I’m doing (which commences in the Spring of ’59, but far away in Chicago’s bungalow belt). Trying to capture that ‘feel’ for an era sixty years gone is a challenge. When we think ‘fifties’, we tend to think of malt shops, poodle skirts, ponytails and leather jacketed juvies. But the late fifties, like the very early sixties, share a slightly different look that I’m determined to get right. Skip the occasional palm tree and the mountains in the background, and a lot of City Of Fear’s exterior locations and even the low-rent interiors just seem to nail it for me – the clothes, the cars, the buildings and so many little details.

City of Fear Montage 1959

Directed by Irving Lerner with a script by Robert Dillon and Steven Ritch (a sometimes actor best known to horror fans as the star and titular monster in the not-that-bad The Werewolf from 1956), City of Fear stars Vince Edwards (TV’s Ben Casey) as escaped convict Vince Ryker, who busted out with a fellow inmate and what they think is a canister of pure heroin that’ll soon be their bankroll. But the container’s actually filled with radioactive Cobalt-60, and Vince’s pal is already dying from exposure. Sneaking past police roadblocks in disguise, Vince gets to his girl, played by Patricia Blair, who does an excellent job in this flick, and was probably thrilled to be playing something other than a frontier woman for once, much of her career spent as ‘the wife’ or love interest in retro TV westerns like Daniel Boone, The Rifleman and Yancy Derringer.

City of Fear

In City Of Fear, Blair could be a character right in my own material. Not the hero, but definitely one of the secondaries, and any one of multiple characters in the now-on-hold sequel’s manuscript. She’s a real treat in this film, and much more fun to watch than Vince Edwards.

The movie’s mostly a race against time, the police desperate to track down Vince and the lethal canister (which goes missing) which could knock off all of L.A. I’m not suggesting you download or race to buy City of Fear unless you’re also in the middle of a project set in 1959. But for me, this film works like a reference manual.

City of Fear Lobby Card

 

Listening To: Dido

Dido Montage

Dido (say Dai-doo): Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O’Malley Armstrong (and there’s a mouthful), the UK musician/singer/songwriter is Saturday’s go-to listening-to while I schedule some blog posts for the next few days and then return to the keyboard for a weekend with no intrusions foreseen, and oodles of productivity expected. Here in the vinyl and disk-only zone, there’ll be No Angel (1999), Life For Rent (2003), Safe Trip Home (2008), Girl Who Got Away (2013) and Still On My Mind (2019).

1 - No Angel2 - Life For Rent3- Safe Trip Hime4 - Girl Who Got Away5 Still On My Mind

Jessica Alba, Vintage Vamp

Jessica Alba 4

Jessica Alba makes for a striking vintage vamp, prohibition era gun moll or all-around femme fatale, prowling a parking garage full of dusty getaway cars in this suite of photos by Michelangelo di Battista for Vogue Italia in 2001.

Jessica Alba 2Jessica Alba 3Jessica Alba 5

Ms. Tree

Hard Case Crime Ms Tree

I discovered Grand Master ‘Edgar’ winner Max Allan Collins’ and Terry Beatty’s ground-breaking character Ms. Tree completely backwards: Not from the various comics series which debuted in 1981 and ran in titles by several different publishers through the early 1990’s, but in the one Ms. Tree novel, Deadly Beloved, published by Hard Case Crime back in 2007. And as it happened, I didn’t even buy that when it was released but several years later, and foolishly didn’t read it right away. But that delay didn’t diminish the enjoyment one bit. I was completely entranced with the character of Michael (not Michelle!) Tree, and determined to track down the comics. Easier said than done, as it turned out. I’ve never been lucky with comic shops’ back-issue bins, often as not muscled aside by some hard-core comics dude. In the end I only located one DC Comics Ms. Tree Quarterly. That one I grabbed and enjoyed a lot.

DC Ms Tree Quarterly

So I was thrilled to hear that Titan Comics Hard Case Crime line will reprint the Ms. Tree series later this year. So far I’ve been pleased with all of Titan’s Hard Case Crime comics that I’ve tried — Triggerman, Peepland and others —  and trust them to do an excellent job.

Ms. Tree. Well, just say it out loud. Misz-Ter-ree. Mystery. Get it? Cute.

Ms Tree Trio

Ms. Tree is writer Collins’ and artist Beatty’s ode to the classic crime comics which largely vanished in the aftermath of the 1950’s Wertham comics scare (Seduction of The Innocent, congressional hearings, etc.). Michael Tree took over her murdered husband’s private detective agency (the Mister also named Michael Tree) and the original series apparently dealt with her violent, vengeance-driven quest to solve his murder and ultimately bring the crime syndicate responsible to justice. Subsequent stories dealt with serious subjects for a time when comics still tiptoed around more mature real-world topics like pregnancy, abortion, homophobia. Ms. Tree herself is kind of a double for Mickey Spillane’s Velda, Mike Hammer’s secretary and paramour — An imposing six foot tall, sporting a Bettie Page hairdo and packing a gun in her shoulder bag (a bag that’s wielded as a nasty weapon in an emergency). Ironically, Ms. Tree turns out to be an even more effective P.I. than her husband was. The character preceded – or maybe even foreshadowed Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone, and helped to supplant outmoded notions of ‘stiletto gumshoes’ previously embodied in the G.G. Fickling’s Honey West and Carter Brown’s Mavis Seidlitz series. I don’t see release dates for this Titan Comics Hard Case Crime comics series, but will definitely be watching for it. Ms. Tree is not escaping me this time.

 

Kill Me, Sweet

Kill Me Sweet 1960 - Cover Art

Jess Wilcox – actually ‘Jessica Wilcox’ – was one of Morris Hershmann’s many pen names, which also included Evelyn Bond, Sara Roffman, Janet Templeton and Lionel Webb.

Most of the female pseudonyms were used for 1960’s era gothic romances (you know, those familiar ‘girl running from house’ novels) and some historical romance ‘bodice rippers’, but here ‘Jessica’ was shortened to a gender-neutral ‘Jess’ for Kill Me, Sweet …which really is a pretty cool title.

Kill Me Sweet 1960

This 1960 paperback original is an Elvis Horn novel, perhaps intended to be the first in a series. Hershmann/Wilcox’ Elvis Horn was a private eye with a peculiar handle (Elvis?), especially since he was intended to be a suave and debonair operator like Peter Gunn or The Saint. In Kill Me, Sweet, Horn’s vacationing in Las Vegas when he’s hired by a mob boss and sent back east to look for a missing New York nightclub owner. The private eye’s search takes him to Paris (and a romance with one Anne Jones) and then to Rome (and another romance, this time with Karen Albert) and some bruising run-ins with mysterious thugs along the way. Morris Hershmann – Jessica/Jess Wilcox’ 1960 Kill Me, Sweet may not have earned a series and may even be a forgettable book, but it sure had a great title, and lucked out with some terrific cover art that ought to help it live on among genre fans.

As for the cover — I’d have assumed a Robert Maguire illustration based on the composition: specifically, the figure’s stance and against a vignetted background, which is something Maguire did on a number of illustrations. Even the woman’s face and hair style are reminiscent of other Maguire covers. But the brushwork? Okay, maybe not. But this book isn’t shown on the Maguire website checklist, and I’d trust that way more than any assumptions of my own. Maybe some vintage paperback and illustration expert can weigh in?

Sveta’s Sirens

Sveta Shubina 2

Graphic designer and illustrator Sveta Shubina may make her living doing stylized logotype designs, but it’s her whimsical take on retro hyper-feminized character illustration that finds her popping up all over the web. Look for more of this Rostov-on-Don, Russia artist’s work at Behance, Instagram and her own gallery/shop at Etsy…and there’s a lot to view.

Sveta Shubina 1

New Zealand’s pinup and fashion designer “The Velvet Decolette”(velvetd.com…a “less bitchy, more kitschy pinup posse”) did a brief interview with the artist, and she explained her influences, some of which ought to be obvious, like Dan DeCarlo, Jack Cole and Bill Wenzel, but also early Disney and Fleisher animation. To complete the homage to those mid-twentieth century cartoonists and pinup artists, Shubina not only replicates their drawing style and the period-perfect costuming, but distresses some of the art itself and fades the hues to add a vintage look. Cute stuff.

Madame Medusa

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