A lethal looking lady with a cigar perched in her elegant hand may be intimidating enough, but it’s the automatic tucked beneath her arm that you need to worry about. Some stylish neo-noir from Colorado artist Shawn Shea, whose work and posters can be found at Pixels, Fine Art America and Daily Paint Works.
A big thanks to site follower/viewer Art Scott for passing along some intriguing info (complete with links) about revered golden/silver age illustrator Robert McGinnis and sex educator, author and feminist Shere Hite, who sadly passed away not long ago on September 9th, 2020.
An April 2017 Vanity Fair magazine feature by Michael Callahan, “The McGinnis Look”, profiled the artist and his iconic paperback covers and movie posters featuring distinctively stylized femme fatales who became known as “the McGinnis Woman”: long, lithe figures draped (or more likely undraped) in 1960’s-70’s mod patterned apparel. These trademark women appeared on numerous pulpy mystery/crime fiction novels, perhaps as much a part of some series’ appeal as the stories themselves.
No news there to many followers and visitors of a “noir culture” blog like The Stiletto Gumshoe. The interesting bit of vintage illustration trivia and mid-twentieth century pop culture lore was the revelation that one of McGinnis’ frequently employed models was none other than a young Shere Hite, whose fit frame and wavy red tresses were a perfect match for McGinnis’ evolving style.
Shirley Diana Gregory was born in Missouri in 1942, changed her name to Shere Hite (using her stepfather’s surname after her parents’ divorce) and with her B.A. and a Masters in History under her belt, headed to New York in 1967 to work on her Ph.D at Columbia University. Just another Boho student squeezed into a cramped Manhattan apartment, Hite found work as an artist’s model, not only for Robert McGinnis, but for other pulp and paperback illustrators, such as Norm Eastman. But it’s her work with McGinnis that may be most readily identifiable, often retaining her thick mane of wavy red hair. International renown was only a few years away for Hite, but at that particular time, she was the McGinnis woman come to life.
Hite published a number of works from the mid-1970’s through 2006, starting with Sexual Honesty By Women For Women, then most notably The Hite Report On Female Sexuality two years later, and a follow up on men and male sexuality several years after that. As far back as 1948, Alfred Kinsey, and later, Masters & Johnson in the mid-1950’s, published ground-breaking studies on human sexuality, but Hite’s interview-based research largely discarded those pioneers’ notions about women’s sexual experiences and responses, which were still rooted in male-centric perspectives. From what I’ve read, she endured some nit-picking about her methodology, but my freshman year 100-level sociology and psychology classes certainly don’t qualify me to draw any such conclusions. What’s clear is that Hite played a crucial role in the 1960’s-1980’s women’s movements and evolving understanding of – and attitudes towards – female sexuality. That she was gearing up to accomplish all of this while earning some coin with art modeling gigs, and for well-known names in the mystery/crime fiction publishing arena – is pretty damn cool.
Follow the links below (with thanks again to follower/visitor Art Scott for those) to Michael Callahan’s 2017 Vanity Fair article on Robert McGinnis and a more recent piece from Air Mail News on Shere Hite and her McGinnis modeling work. It’s enough to make you scrutinize the faces of the people populating all those postwar paperbacks and mid-twentieth century pulp magazine covers a lot closer to see who else we might discover.
I haven’t read Thomas Walsh’s 1953 novel The Night Watch or William Ballinger’s Rafferty from the same year, but both books were adapted by screenwriter Roy Huggins for Richard Quine’s 1954 Columbia noir, Pushover. At the time, reviewers compared it (favorably or not) to 1944’s Double Indemnity, and understandably so, both films starring Fred MacMurray as a too-smart-for-his-own-good fellow who may not be dirty but is certainly a bit dusty, enough to fall in love or lust with a seductive blonde even though he knows she’ll be pure trouble. In the film adaptation of James M. Cain’s steamy novel, it was Barbara Stanwyck, of course, in one of most memorable roles. Here it’s a young Kim Novak.
The movie opens with an action-packed robbery that goes bad. Cut to stag-night MacMurray spotting unattached Kim Novak at a late-night movie. Kim’s car trouble leads them to a cocktail lounge, then to more drinks at home (and presumably whatever else goes on there that couldn’t be shown in 1950s films). The coincidental meeting looks to turn into a romance, till we learn that MacMurray’s actually a cop who’s been tailing Novak all along, she being the gal pal of the armed robber who’s now wanted for murder.
She’s no dope, figures out that MacMurray’s a detective, but love is love and lust is lust, and soon enough the two conspire to get their mitts on the heist man’s loot and make their getaway. Just why they think their hastily hatched scheme can succeed with two-man police teams doing round the clock surveillance on Novak’s apartment eludes me. Meanwhile, MacMurray’s confirmed bachelor partner falls hard for Kim Novak’s neighbor, played by Dorothy Malone, a cute nurse he’s keeping an eye on (literally) through binoculars from his perch across the street. Keep that in mind the next time you wonder if you ought to close the blinds when you’re down to your skimpies or getting up to something naughty.
No surprise, just about everything that could go wrong does, with MacMurray getting deeper in trouble by the hour and a couple of bodies left in his wake. Like all good noirs, doomed love is precisely that: Doomed.
I’d only seen this film once before, but it’s suddenly in rotation on the MOVIES! cable channel’s Sunday and Thursday night noir showcases. Double Indemnity it’s not, but it’s damn good. Dark, steamy, punctuated with sudden bursts of violence…all you could want from a mid-1950’s crime film.
It had been ten years since Fred MacMurray helped make the screen sizzle alongside Barbara Stanwyck as Walter Neff and Phyllis Deitrichson. With a 25-year age difference, it’s understandable if you consider him mismatched with sleek 21 year old Kim Novak. But then, Hollywood never fretted much about pairing middle-aged (and older) fellows with ingenues and starlets (I mean, Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn? Seriously?). That we believe that Kim Novak’s gun moll doesn’t only see MacMurray’s crooked cop as her ticket out of the life, but that he actually gets her motor humming, is just a testament to the young actress’ emerging talent. Bottom line: The duo make it work. MacMurray was an old pro, and one of Hollywood’s highest earning actors at the time, but this was Kim Novak’s first starring role. In fact, it was only her second film, the previous part just an uncredited walk-on.
On TV, online (it’s there) or on disk – if you haven’t seen Pushover, check it out. It won’t make it to the top of your film noir list, but you won’t be disappointed.
A wad of twenties might be better, but it looks like this duo will settle for the bundles of singles from their latest heist. Retro pinup models Greta Macabre and Tamara pose in perfect retro style for photographer Deyan Baric.
From Mike Vosburg’s fun Retrowood from 2013, a ‘sorta-kinda’ mid-twentieth century Hollywood (but not really) hard-boiled noir with private eye J. Parker Wrighte mixed up in mystery and murder among the decadent tinsel town’s stand-ins most devious (and pervy) denizens. The story is dark but goofy fun, and the art’s almost sedate for Vosburg, while still indulging the figurative master’s flair for lovely — albeit lethal — ladies.
The Daily Mail’s men’s style feature “If Looks Could Kill: This Season’s Noir Fashion” (though it’s from a few ‘seasons’ ago) tells us “If you want to turn heads and get the girl, you need to look the part. Dress like this and don’t be surprised if trouble walks through your door with eyes like marigolds. You might even get a job offer about a mysterious statue, or receive a visit from a beautiful brunette with a dark secret. Thankfully, roscoes and heaters are no longer de rigueur accessories”.
Well, I don’t know about the copywriter’s take on hard-boiled patter, but the selections from Ian Derry’s photography looks just fine.
These femmes fatales are devilish enough, but this isn’t another Halloween post.
I confess: I’ve seen some of these illustrations lurking around sites and blogs forever and always assumed they were retro styled but recent comic or pinup art. Not so. They’re but a few of dozens of cover illustrations from French paperback and digest novels done by “R & R Giordan”, which is really the brothers Raoul and Robert Giordan, who had a long and successful career doing comics, book covers and spot illustration work in the 1940’s through the 1970’s, particularly popular in science fiction and adventure titles.
The Giordan brothers came from Nice, Robert born in 1922, Raoul in 1926, and worked at a hotel during WWII. After a brief postwar stint at an animation studio, they began working in comics, much of their 1950’s-60’s era work being graphic novel style adaptations of popular science fiction books. In the 1970’s, Raoul began to drift away from comics and illustration work to focus on his own painting, and some years later, both had stopped commercial work altogether. Sadly, brother Robert passed away at the young age of only 61, though Raoul gave an SF/Fantasy comic one more go as late as the 1990’s. Raoul Giordan passed away in 2017.
Even though they’re best known in European science fiction/fantasy/adventure circles, the brothers did a lot of covers for mystery/crime fiction digests and paperbacks as well, some of which are shown here. Le Diable En Bas Nylon by Gerald Rose (The Devil In Nylon Stockings, no surprise) from 1952, and others, are indicative of their consistent style: A particularly ‘fatal’ femme fatale either beckons to some soon-to-be victim, or is already gloating over his downfall, as we see in Robert Trebor’s Mauvais Pretexte. There’s quite a bit about the Girodan brothers to be found online, but mostly in French, and four years of high school French doesn’t equip me to decipher more than a random word or two. Perhaps the less linguistically-challenged among you will fare better.
Born Bettejane Greer in 1924, Jane Greer legally changed her name in 1945, deciding that Bettejane was “a sissy name. It’s too Bo-Peepish for the type of role I’ve been playing”. RKO promoted her as “the woman with the Mona Lisa smile”, but in fact, teenage Greer suffered from a condition that paralyzed the left side of her face. Even after recovering, she relied on facial exercises to overcome the paralysis, which contributed to her enigmatic expression.
Teen beauty pageants led to modeling jobs and a big band singing gig in the Washington D.C. area till Hollywood discovered her from a Life magazine modeling spread. Greer appeared in a long list of MGM and RKO films playing everything from crooks to cowgirls and continuing to work in both movies and television into her seventies. This even included a parody of her iconic role as Kathie Moffat, one of film noir’s most iconic femmes fatales, in a 1987 Saturday Night Live skit alongside her Out Of The Past costar Robert Mitchum. Now that I’d like to see!
Jane Greer left us in 2001 at the age of 76.
It was a dreary weekend, saddled with a long list of chores and plagued by cold, drizzly weather. By the time the Sunday evening dinner plates were tucked in the dishwasher, and with few prospects ahead except prime-time cable news shows desperately trying to digest the ongoing national nightmare, I was ready for a double dose of ZzzQuil, Monday’s 5:15 AM alarm the next stop.
That is, till I noticed that Jacques Tourneur’s 1947 RKO noir masterpiece Out Of The Past was on the Movies! network “Sunday Night Noir” feature at 7:00 PM CST. Sure, commercial interruptions and all that. But it’s Robert Mitchum. It’s Jane Greer. It’s Out Of The F—ing Past.
I love Robert Mitchum. I’ll happily watch Hollywood’s 1940’s-50’s bad boy as a cop, a killer, a sheriff, a soldier or Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Mitchum’s deep, resonant voice laced with a knowing cynicism, the hulking build buried inside voluminous postwar era suits and impossibly huge topcoats, those sleepy bedroom eyes barely peeking out from beneath a wide-brimmed fedora…it’s just pure dark magic come to life on screen. Newcomer Kirk Douglas? Oh, he’s suitably slimy throughout, even if his offscreen demise is a little frustrating. And Jane Greer? Well, what can anyone say about Greer’s iconic Kathie Moffat, surely one of the classic film noir era’s preeminent femmes fatales? Here she’s a vision in white, then later, the most dangerous of dames, mysterious throughout, her grim backstory always implied but never revealed. Within the postwar era’s limitations, Greer’s violent end is as riveting as the bloody slo-mo shootout capping Arthur Penn’s 1968 Bonnie And Clyde.
But her memorable femme fatale is no mere schemer. Like many great protagonists, antagonists and antiheroes from the classic film noir era, this villainess has some baggage we never get to hear about. But we know there’s much more to Greer’s Kathie Moffat than just greed or lust. Near the film’s end, when Mitchum’s Jeff Bailey/Markham realizes that any chance at redemption and a new life is irrevocably gone, Kathie Moffat tells him:
“We’re starting all over. I wanna walk out of the sun again and find you waiting. I wanna sit in the same moonlight and tell you all the things I never told you…until you don’t hate me. Until sometime you love me again. “
“They’ll always be looking for us,” Mitchum replies. “They won’t stop till we die.”
“I don’t care. Just so they find us together.”
“All the things I never told you…” That’s the key, isn’t it? We fill in the blanks throughout the film, certain that in addition to being a crook, Kirk Douglas’ gambling kingpin was a sexual sadist and abuser, but unsure if his mistress, Greer’s Kathie Moffat, endured the pain and humiliation out of fear, avarice or…what? The great film noir femmes fatales are much more than succubi with a snubnose. Scriptwriters and directors left details, backstories and motivations murky, times being what they were. But the viewer knows. We all know. They were who they were because of what they’ve seen, done and endured.
Out Of The Past was adapted by Daniel Mainwaring from his own novel Build My Gallows High…his last novel (writing as Geofffrey Homes), in fact, Mainwaring switching to scriptwriting full-time thereafter. In fact, the film went by the novel’s title in the UK, so you’ll see some posters and lobby cards online with that name. (The gorgeous illustration at the top of this post is from an Italian poster by Marino.) I’m embarrassed to admit that Mainwaring/Homes’ novel is one classic that’s still on my to-be-read list, a mistake I’ll remedy soon. It’s my understanding, though, that it’s a real textbook example of colorful hard-boiled banter. As is the film’s screenplay. Yet I’ve read that Mainwaring shared little of the dialog from his own source novel.
The film has too many accolades to list, but famed film critic Roger Ebert called Out Of The Past “the greatest cigarette smoking movie of all time”. See for yourself if that isn’t true during your next (or first) viewing. Vintage Hollywood films are often a smoking orgy, but you’ll never see characters smoke so much and so purposefully as you will here. Ebert explained, “the trick, as demonstrated by Jacques Tourneur and his cameraman Nicholas Musuraca (the talented team on 1942’s Cat People) is to throw a lot of light into the empty space where the characters are going to exhale. When they do, they produce great white clouds of smoke that express their moods, their personalities and their energy levels. There are guns in Out Of The Past, but the real hostility came when Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas smoked at each other”.
And Jane Greer, I might add.
Confession: I still downed a shot of the ZzzQuill Sunday night. But by the time I started snoring, I was already deep in dark dreams about “all the things she never told us“.
Austrian artist Rudolph Sieber-Lonati (1924 – 1990) was best known for his colorful and action-packed science fiction, horror and western illustrations, but he also painted a number of crime digest and paperback covers. An excellent example: This illustration for G. W. Jones’ Morgen Wirst Du Nicht Mehr Leben, one of that prolific writer’s many “Fledermaus” and “Die Schwarz Fledermaus” digests. Unreliable online translators work that title out as “Tomorrow You Won’t Live Anymore”, but what do you want to bet it’s really “Tomorrow, You Die”?