Category Archives: Pulp fiction in the 70s and 80s

Forget it, Stanley, it’s Chinatown: Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon

Year of the Dragon posterThe recent death of Michael Cimino saw an outpouring of positive critical and fan commentary about the director’s work. The two films most talked about were the controversial Vietnam War drama, The Deer Hunter (1978), and the sprawling revisionist Western epic, Heaven’s Gate (1980). The Deer Hunter was a hit and won five academy awards. Heaven’s Gate virtually destroyed Cimino’s career and nearly bankrupted United Artists, but has since gone on to enjoy a curious critical rehabilitation, a development which will no doubt be given a prod by the director’s passing.

Cimino did make other films, including The Sicilian (1987) and Desperate Hours, based on the Joseph Hanson stage play and first filmed in 1955 with an ageing Humphrey Bogart, and he penned the scrips for a handful of others. His passing is an opportune time to revisit one of his lessor discussed directorial efforts, the first film he made in the wake the Heaven’s Gate debacle, 1985 neo noir, Year of the Dragon.

Set in New York’s Chinatown, Year of the Dragon opens with the assassination of one of Chinatown’s elders and the murder of an Italian grocery store owner who resists an attempt to shake him down for protection money. The new head of the Chinatown command of the NYPD, Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) believes both deaths are the result of an upsurge in Triad activity.… Read more

Book review: The World of Shaft

The World of Shaft

You might remember the news last year that New Line pictures had acquired the rights to do yet another film remake featuring the iconic character of John Shaft. If so, you may also remember the ensuring controversy that erupted over plans to make said film a comedy, including an open letter protesting the move by  award winning journalist, David F Walker.

I am not sure at what stage the proposal Shaft remake is at, but I totally agree with Walker in his introduction to Steve Aldous’s recently released guide to the character, ‘When author Ernest Tidyman’s book Shaft was first published in 1971, and director Gordon Parks’ cinematic adaption followed a year later, a new era of representation began in American pop culture.’

The World of Shaft attempts to chronicle the cultural phenomena that is the ex-juvenile delinquent, Vietnam Vet, New York private eye known as Shaft. From the character’s origins via the pen of white ex-newspaperman Tidyman to the, in my opinion, rather average 2000 cinematic remake, this is an exhaustive examination of every aspect of the character and his various manifestations.

Shaft emerged from a combination of Tidyman’s desperation to make it as a writer and, as he put it in an interview, his “awareness of both social and literary situations in a changing city.… Read more

Pulp Friday: The Man Who Fell to Earth

Pan 1976Like so many people, I was enormously saddened by news this week of the death of David Bowie, from cancer at the age of 69.

There is no need for me to replicate all the sentiments that have been expressed elsewhere about Bowie’s passing, except to say that for me, as for so many of you, his death has left a huge hole in my popular culture landscape and the world is a less interesting place without him.

I did want to do something on this site to commemorate Bowie, however. And what better way to pay tribute to the man who once said his perfect idea of happiness is reading, than through books. So, my first Pulp Friday offering for 2016 is dedicated to the wonderful David Bowie: a selection of paperback tie ins for The Man Who Fell to Earth, directed by Nicolas Roeg, released in 1976.

It was only when I was doing research for an article on the ‘David Bowie Is’ exception that toured Melbourne last year, that I discovered The Man Who Fell to Earth was a book before it was a film. The Man Who Fell to Earth was first published in 1961. It was written by US novelist Walter Tevis whose debut work, The Hustler, featured as a Pulp Friday post here in 2013.… Read more

Pulp Friday: witches, sorcerers & Satan’s disciples

Satan, witches, warlocks, demons, they were everywhere in the sixties and seventies and no more so than on pulp fiction covers. To mark Halloween, today’s Pulp Friday offering is a selection of covers featuring the lord of darkness and his various disciples.

It’s hardly surprising that Satanism and witchcraft featured so prominently in pulp. Not only did these books mirror then contemporary tabloid fascinations with black magic and witches, but the subject was an excuse for a bit of gratuitous sex and nudity. Especially sex. Devil worshippers, particularly Satan’s female disciples, were nothing if not sexually promiscuous, at least in the pages of pulp fiction.

The selection of covers below hail from the UK, US and Australia. They ran the gamut of key pulp fiction sub-genres: fiction (Dennis Wheatley’s To the Devil a Daughter, one of many occult themed books he wrote); history and so-called exposes (James Holledge’s Black Magic, ‘The world of uncanny occult rights, psychic phenomena, weird sex rities’); how to guides (How to Become a Sensuous Witch); television and movie ties ins (The Witchfinder General and  The Grip of Evil, the latter part of a series of paperback spin offs based on the hugely popular early 1970s Australian television show, Number 96), and smut titles (Bride of Satan and The Cult of Flesh – ‘Violent debauchery in a Satanic Cult of Flesh Worshipers’),

Even Carter Brown, hardly the most salacious of pulp writers in the sixties, touched on occult themes in books like Blonde on a Broomstick.… Read more

Pulp Friday: The Laughing Policeman

The Laughing Policeman Bantam 1974The Laughing Policeman is probably better known as the title of a book than a film, but both are the subject of today’s Pulp Friday offering.

Originally published in 1968, The Laughing Policeman was fourth in a series of ten books featuring the bad tempered police detective, Martin Beck, by Swedish crime writing duo, Maj Sjowell and Per Wahloo. The book was adapted into a film, directed by Stuart Rosenburg, and released in 1973.

The covers in today’s post include both the original novel and the paperback-tie in for the film. The one above is the 1974 Bantam edition. In order those below are: the back cover to the 1974 Bantam edition, the cover of the 1977 Vintage edition, and the 1974 UK paperback tie-in for the movie, published by Sphere. The film appeared under that title in the UK.

The series is very famous and I don’t think I have to go into detail about it here. The plot of the original The Laughing Policeman novel concerns a gunman who shoots passengers on a public bus, killing eight people and wounding one. Beck and his team believe the murders are a disguise for the murder of a police detective who was engaged in an out of hour’s investigation into the murder of a 16-year-old Portuguese sex worker.… Read more