Loles Romero has her share of dark fantasy and SF pieces like so many artists doing concept work and illustration for film and gaming clients, but this Ibiza, Spain artist has a way with the ‘noir-ish’, and I hope she’ll have opportunities to do more. These two examples were done as illustrations for stories by Hector Espadas. Look for her work at Art Station.
I believe it’s a photo from a 2018 shoot for Dita Von Teese Eyewear (sunglasses, I’ll guess, not prescription specs). Now you might expect a closeup on the shades, but this photo’s much nicer than any old tabletop product shot.
Doing a double-check of Hollywood movie trivia for some writing-in-progress, I had to pause when I stumbled across “The Girl Hunt Ballet” sequence from Vincente Minelli’s 1953 MGM musical The Band Wagon. Call me a procrastinator, but I just had to watch it a couple of times. Now, musicals aren’t really my thing. But if you haven’t seen this stunning 12-minute homage to then controversial Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer hard-boiled novels, you’re missing a treat. In the mini-movie-within-a-movie, Fred Astaire’s a dapper but dangerous New York gumshoe and Cyd Charisse may be the most bewitching femme fatale to ever melt a movie screen. For more about “The Girl Hunt Ballet”, follow the link below to a December 2018 post here at The Stiletto Gumshoe.
As for Cyd Charisse, that would be Tula Ellice Finklea from Amarillo, Texas, who first went by Felia Sidrova and later Maria Istomina while dancing with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in her late teens and early twenties (when she married fellow dancer Nico Charisse). She became ‘Cyd’ when talent scouts lured her to Hollywood…though even that would be after a brief stint going by Lily Norwood. A woman of many names, indeed. That Charisse was a dancer (and one of Hollywood’s all-time greats) is doubly amazing considering that she began studying ballet to build up her body during a sickly childhood and a bout with polio.
If an MGM musical star still needed any more mystery/crime/noir cred after her memorable “The Girl Hunt Ballet” performance, check out Nicholas Ray’s 1958 Party Girl, where Charisse is a cynical Chi-Town showgirl mixed up with gangsters and falling for a crooked mob lawyer. It didn’t do so well here in the U.S. and is rarely listed among better known postwar film noir and crime melodramas, but oddly enough it’s gained some sort of cult following among European crime film fans. As luck would have it, Party Girl airs on Sunday evening 9.6.20 (this post being written days ago).
Born in a small town outside of Rome, Italy in 1932, Renato Fratini studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti de Roma and began his commercial art career in the early 1950’s, originally doing comic strips and spot illustrations for the Guerri Brothers studio. But in 1952 he moved to the competing Favelli Brothers agency, which had a contract with Rome’s Cinecitta Studios, allowing Fratini to work on a number of now iconic European film posters.
He continued doing a lot of film promotion work there and later for other studios throughout the fifties, while also expanding into paperback book cover art. That work led Fratini to London, where he dived into his most productive period, churning out popular film poster, magazine illustration and book cover art assignments in a unique mixed media combining acrylic underpainting layered with inks and gouache. Some bio’s wonder how the artist managed to produce so much work throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, notorious for living it up in the swinging sixties Rome and London party scenes. Sadly, his lifestyle caught up with him, and Renato Fratini passed away at the young age of 41 in 1973.
The fashion editorial is titled “Film Noir” simply enough, shot by Nathaniel Goldberg for Numero in 2017, styled by David Bradshaw and starring Guinevere Van Seenus as the platinum haired femme fatale.
Elsa Martinelli (1935 – 2017) born Elisa Tia in Tuscany, seen here as Russian agent Maria Kuzenov in a 1964 episode of NBC’s one-season series, The Rogues. Well-dressed and well-armed apparently do go together.
I’ve been more or less on ‘pause’ with my own writing projects since late March. Specifically, the outreach/submission chores have been on hold, for good or bad, waiting till Labor Day before ‘un-pausing’.
Queries previously circulated for the completed The Stiletto Gumshoe novel (that’s actually not it’s title) while I continued work on its follow-up for a hoped-for mystery/crime fiction series. But with NYC the epicenter of all-things-bad back in the Spring, it seemed sensible to halt any further outreach. Considering the frustrating ratio of replies (even when they’re ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’) to so-called NORMANS (no reply means a no), why send things out to empty workstations and unopened inboxes? Offices had emptied out, folks were huddling in their homes and apartments, and we all had bigger things on our minds than genre fiction queries.
Things loosened up a little in some parts of the country (New York in particular) while we drifted into Summer, a time of year considered by many (though not all) as the publishing marketplace’s down-time. Though ‘real’ Summer’s still with us for another two weeks-plus, Labor Day’s the traditional end of the season, and I’m ready – even eager – to get going again. So, just to get back in the groove, I pulled the untouched-for-months manuscript out and gave it another once-over…what writer can forego making another tweak or two?
As for the in-progress sequel? It hasn’t progressed as much as I’d like, not for lack of inspiration or due to writer’s block, but simply a matter of time. I never could’ve foreseen how the day job would change once everything went haywire back in late March: Staff working from home, me on-site, access to assets, info and more from Brazil, Germany, the UK and other faraway places all delayed. Bottom line: Everything takes half again longer than usual to complete. Mind you, there’ll be no whining here. I’m working. So many still are not.
Writing, publishing and bookselling sites, blogs and the trade press provide a mixed bag of news and opinions on what’s-what in the marketplaces. The good news: Print unit sales have been up, by more than anyone foresaw, and the numbers seem to show some staying power. On the other hand, book production’s been disrupted, not only by pandemic related issues but supply-chain and other problems with the main book printing mega-companies. Still, new titles are coming out. Deals are being made. All eyes may be on the latest political tell-all hardcover right now, but we assume that’ll fade sometime soon. So, while pressing pause when the pandemic first swept over the country and everything initially shut down seemed prudent, lingering in neutral for too long can only lead to inertia. Time to get back to work.
Literary Agent Jessica Faust’s excellent Bookends Literary Agency blog (link below) recently posted “Keep Moving Forward”, recounting the ups and downs (mostly ups) of the scary days in the Spring, and offers, “My tip for my clients is the same as I gave my agents. Keep moving forward…Keep submitting, even if it’s summer or a pandemic or the world looks bleak. Keep moving forward and controlling the one thing you can control: What you’re doing.” Makes sense to me. Whatever the ‘new normal’ is or will ultimately be, there’s no point sitting on the sidelines with a wait-n-see attitude. So next week I’ll reopen that buzzkill of a query/submission spreadsheet, revisit my continually-added-to literary agent lists, revise and refresh my queries and get back to work.
Y’know, I’m getting revved up already.
Photos: Laura Chouette, Natalia Drepina, Janko Ferlic
From Peter Adrastos Athos’ First Draft Wordpress blog (link below): a 1973 LP from Bay Area band Cold Blood. The front is a pretty fair homage to the mid-fifties true crime and detective magazines that used photography instead of illustrations. But it’s the album cover’s back side that’s a real treat. Head to First Draft to read more about this band and the LP, or better yet, just to keep an eye on the blog’s “Pulp Fiction Thursdays”.
Noir? Nope. Kinda-fun vintage sleaze with a dark veneer? You betcha.
Over-Exposed is a 1956 low-budget Columbia Cleo Moore leer-fest from director Lewis Seiler. If Moore’s collaborations with writer-director-actor Hugo Haas teased and titillated (with more sizzle on the films’ posters and lobby cards than on-screen), this one makes no excuses about being an exploitation flick. And yet, it’s pretty engaging and written/shot/acted much better than it had any need to be.
The film opens with Cleo Moore dragged from a paddy wagon along with a group of fellow clip-joint B-Girls and (we’re to assume) hookers while a crime photographer snaps away. The cops tell her to be on the next bus out of town if she wants to stay out of jail, but she ends up bunking down at the crime photographer’s dumpy home studio. He may be old and a drunk but they become pals and he teaches her some studio basics from both sides of the lens. Gifted with some of his old camera gear, she finally buys that bus ticket and heads for the big city, anxious to become a news photographer, but unprepared for the cut-throat competition.
She hooks up with a young, handsome reporter played by Richard Crenna (on a break from the last season of his long-running radio/TV role as geeky high-schooler Walter Denton on Our Miss Brooks). He’s smitten right from the start, but Cleo’s not looking for love, she’s looking to make it big in the big bad city. She’s working soon enough, but only as a mob-connected cocktail lounge’s “flash girl” where the fit of her skimpy costume is more important than her camera skills. Ambition gets the best of her, though. “Green becomes me,” she says, and soon enough her camera’s got her tied up with a sleazy columnist, mobsters and blackmail schemes, ultimately kidnapped by the mob.
Cleo Moore’s not Ida Lupino or Lauren Bacall. Richard Crenna’s not Bogart or Mitchum. And director Seiler (who started out in the silent era) isn’t Fritz Lang or Nicholas Ray, though he did direct Whiplash in 1948. This is pure exploitation drive-in fare, ripe with leering mid-fifties naughtiness (which means it’s kind of tacky). But Moore delivers this time, the story moves along at a decent clip and there’s a nicely crafted shot or two along the way. And by that I don’t mean all the ogling of Cleo Moore prancing around her apartment studio in a black leotard and mesh hose or tussling with lushes in in her “flash girl” costume. Over-Exposed is in rotation on the Movies! Network’s two night’s of sorta and sorta-not noir films, and if you have that channel, I’d give this one a try.
What a missed opportunity: That ‘she of the sultry voice’ never played a traditional (even stereotypical) femme fatale or a wisecracking 60’s private eye. Oh, how she could’ve delivered some snappy noir-ish banter. Suzanne Pleshette (1937 – 2008) seen here in A Rage To Live (1965) and the Renato Fratini illustrated film poster below.