Happy 100th birthday Olivia de Havilland!
28 May, 1908 – 12 August, 1964
Cary Grant as John Robie, retired cat burglar and jewel thief
French Riviera, Summer 1954
To Catch a Thief is a classic Hitchcock production featuring two of his favorite stars – Cary Grant and Grace Kelly – in a romantic crime comedy-thriller set against the exotic backdrop of the French Riviera. It was one of Grace’s last films in her too-brief five-year acting career before becoming Princess of Monaco.
Grant and Kelly’s undeniable chemistry is still remarkable sixty years later. While legendary Hollywood costumer Edith Head dressed Princess Grace for the film, it’s believed that Grant provided most of his own attire as he was, after all, Cary fucking Grant.
After looking very sharp in a midnight blue dinner suit, Grant continued to impress by donning a debonair gray suit for both an office visit and a funeral. While it’s a
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This article was originally posted with Parisian Gentleman.
The Style & Symbolism of Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper & Cary Grant
Man’s stock appears to be falling. He is suffering a public relations crisis.
Three years ago, Hanna Rosin cogently contemplated ‘The End of Man’, as his physical size and strength are of little consequence in our post-industrial society.[i] Four months ago, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen baulked at the ‘new sex appeal’ promoted by James Bond’s twenty-third cinematic outing, which preferences Man’s pectorals and glutes over his personality and gumption.[ii] The debate about Man’s societal role and public presentation gives a new twist to age-old discussions about ‘great men’ and icons, particularly from the golden years of Hollywood. Cohen suggests that Man’s present focus on physical perfection has emasculated him. To make the point, he compares Daniel Craig’s Bond with Cary Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill in Hitchcock’s…
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“buccaneer in the suits of Savile Row, amused, cool, debonair, with hell-for-leather blue eyes and a saintly smile…”[
After their successful re-issue of the Ian Fleming oeuvre, Amazon’s publishing house, Thomas & Mercer, are publishing the complete (sort of) tales of Simon Templar, aka The Saint. These were written by Leslie Charteris between 1928 and 1963. After that date, other authors collaborated with Charteris on books until 1983. Of course, The Saint has appeared in countless movies, radio programs, comic books and television shows.
“…said the actress to the bishop…”
Although the new cover art leaves much to be desired (as did their Bond books), it does seem to be a quality uniform edition. The Saint stories came in three formats; the novel, the novella and the short story. Most of the novella’s and short stories were originally published in magazines and later collected into book form, with each book containing three or four stories. This was common practice at the time. The new editions start with what was actually the second book in the series, Enter The Saint. The first book, Meet the Tiger, is missing for some reason (copyright?), and they seem to be ignoring its existence (It’s happened before). Although there is some argument about the book order, depending on your source.
Templar is a Robin Hood, anti-hero type criminal, of mysterious origins, who cracks wise and leaves his “calling card” of the stick figure with the halo at the scene of the crime. He targets “the baddies” of all stripes and gives most of his “boodle” to charity. As always, the literary Saint is much darker than the film version. Although in the early films he was portrayed by George Sanders, and that’s getting pretty dark. The Saint is a criminal, and has no problem with ruining lives or killing, if he feels it’s warranted. Since the series ran for such a long period of time, the stories and the antagonists change along with the times.
In some stories he is acting as a straight forward detective, in others he is more in the confidence game sphere and others involve ingenious plots of revenge or pay back. In the early stories most of his activities are illegal although directed at villains. As time went on this became less so. Women, compatriots, antagonists come and go, and The Saint remains ageless.
I am happy to see these books back in print in a uniform edition. At this point, I am having a difficult time putting the titles in the proper order, as the publisher seems to be taking a shotgun approach to publishing these stories. It doesn’t help that over the years, many of the books have been published in numerous editions with different stories collected under changing titles. But I’m working on it.
If interested check out: The Saintly Bible, probably the largest Saint related website out there.
Or, The Saint: A Complete History in Print, Radio, Film and Television by Burl Barer.
Also go to Amazon and check out their reasonably priced new paperback editions of these wonderful old stories.
The good news is that Titan Books has begun reissuing the Matt Helm series (1960 – 1993) of books by Donald Hamilton in attractive paperbacks with the obligatory scantily clad “dame” on the cover. This, I think, harkens back to the book’s roots as classic pulps from the 50s and 60s. Although one must note, that the girls portrayed on today’s covers are a bit more, should we say, svelte, or a little less Marilynesque looking than those in the wonderful Robert McGinnis covers (he did over 1200) which adorned the originals.
Helm, who was introduced in 1960 with the publication by Fawcett of Death of a Citizen, seven years after Bond, but before Bond took off in the United States (this would happen in 1964 with the publication of JFK’s manufactured reading list) continued on for about twenty books into the 1990s. These were the glory years for the pulps, and all of Helm’s adventures were published as paperbacks. Hamilton and Helm ruled for many years until giving way to a man named Travis McGee. So much so, that the final Helm book is still unpublished (Titan are you listening?).
Helm suffered a similar fate at the cinema as that of his counterpart across the pond. As with Bond, movies were produced that bore little or no resemblance to the books from which they sprung. Even more so in Helm’s case, as the films were purposely presented as camp comedy. You know it’s a bad sign when Dean Martin is chosen to portray you’re ruthless counter assassin.
Both literary characters are both darker and less humorous than their movie counterparts. One could say Bond was “humorless” until the release of the first Bond film which in turn influenced Fleming’s writing. The men in the books are sociopaths, just good looking ones who happen to work for the government. Bond, really had no personality, which was Fleming’s intent. He had “things” and habits, but he was a blank slate that the reader could write on. Helm is a bit more fleshed out, but although he attempted to live a “normal life” he was most comfortable in the world of assassination and mayhem. Helm also did not benefit from the “Fleming Effect” (a term coined by novelist and Bond fan Sir Kingsley Amis) which was what would become known as “product placement”, although Fleming was doing it for free. When Helm looked at his watch, it was just a “watch”, Bond on the other hand looked at his “Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding metal bracelet”. Fleming felt that this “grounded” Bond in a world that readers would recognize, even if they did not know it.
Helm was much more of a middle class character whereas Bond (Eton, Fettes, Royal Navy Officer) was more upper U. Both men were highly trained professional killers, although Helm is not a spy, he is a counter-assassin for an unnamed United States government agency. Helm’s unit (with which he served during World War II) was a Nazi hunting group which the government thought would work on dirty red bastards as well, so was kept going after the war’s end. Helm is much more ruthless and brutal than Bond. In one story Helm is sent to “convincingly beat up” a fellow female agent, armed with instructions from the agency doctor on what to break, etc. no less (we are told he trained for this, a school I’d like to see) but accidently kills her when she has an alcohol induced heart attack midway through the session. Hate when that happens. He always carries a Buck Knife and doesn’t like to carry a gun (when he has to it is usually a .38) because they can’t be explained away if caught. Helm’s adventures are less exotic and the Bentleys and Aston Martins are replaced with Fords, Chevrolets and Volkswagens from the car pool. Helm’s personal vehicle was an old pick-up truck equipped with a camper shell. Not exactly sexy. He shops at Brooks Brothers not Savile Row, and we never learn if he eats off Minton china or prefers eggs from particular hens. He definitely buys his smokes (probably Lucky Strikes or Chesterfields) at the commissary and not at Morland of Grosvenor Street.
Having read the books back in the day, I was pleased to find them being republished after many years of out-of-printness. I enjoy these mid-20th century pulp novels. So politically incorrect and surprisingly frank about sex and violence for books written in the early 60s. Yes, like Bond, Helm has a way with the ladies, not as suave and debonair, but he pulls in the tail nonetheless. Definitely worth a look for those with a nostalgic bent. Actually a little more believable than the Bond stories, just not as well dressed.
For those interested, check out The Matt Helm Dossier, which covers all the books in detail and has an hilarious on-going riff on the use of the word “darling”. Which is a word one comes across in any book of this time period. Excellent resource.
Fantastic post by man BAMF…Actually one of the best rundowns on Bond out there. I’m a fan of the literary Bond and really don’t care for the movie version. But I can stomach the Sean Connery Bond. Very good stuff.
Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger (1964), wearing the closest cinematic approximation of the suit imagined by Ian Fleming for his character. Inset is a drawing created by Fleming and commissioned for the Daily Express comic strip.
James Bond, British government agent
106 years ago, on May 28, 1908, Ian Lancaster Fleming was born in Mayfair to an eventual member of parliament and his wife. Throughout his life, Fleming would be a journalist, a Naval Intelligence officer, and – the role in which he is most remembered – the author who introduced the world to James Bond.
After World War II, Fleming was demobilized from his position at British Naval Intelligence and began working as a newspaper manager, a job allowing him three months vacation. Fleming, whose ambition had long been to write a spy novel, used those winter months to retreat to Jamaica.
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First UK Edition
First US Edition
I enjoy spy novels. Specifically those written during the 40’s thru 60’s timeframe. Think Ambler, Fleming (Bond), LeCarre (Smiley), Deighton (Unnamed spy), McInnes, Maclean, etc. So when a fellow aficionado assumed that I had read Peter O’Donnell‘s Modesty Blaise, he was shocked that I had not. ‘Isn’t that a comic strip’, I asked, ‘it is’, he replied but there were also some 11 novels and 2 collections of short stories written as well. Hummm….I decided I best investigate.
I seems that in 1962 strip writer Peter O’Donnell invented Modesty Blaise and with several different artists wrote the strip from 1963 until 2001. With the success of the strip, O’Donnell was asked to write a screenplay to bring Modesty to the big screen. The film, which was released in 1966, bore little or no resemblance to the screenplay. O’Donnell stated that he believed they used exactly one line from his screenplay in the final film. Needless to say the film bombed, but on the positive side, O’Donnell had also been asked to write a tie-in novel for the film, which he did, and the novel was a hit.
Over the next 20 years O’Donnell penned 11 more novels and 2 short story collections. The UK editions were all published by Souvenir Press which reissued the books in paperback using the original artwork in 2001. You might recognize the cover of the first US edition, it was the book that the John Travolta character was seen reading in the film Pulp Fiction.
I picked up the reissue of the first book in the series, Modesty Blaise and was pleasantly surprised. O’Donnell does an excellent job of writing a nicely paced story, fleshing out the characters just enough while keeping the story moving. We’re not talking ‘spy literature’ here in the vein of LeCarre or Deighton, it’s more on the scale of a Fleming minus product placement or MacLean with sex scenes. But, for what it is, it’s very well done. O’Donnell is a good writer, better than he is given credit for. The sex is frank, but not explicit, as you would expect for a book written in the early 60s. The characters of Modesty and her sidekick Willie Garvin are fleshed out just enough to make them interesting and the minor players, although a little thin, are well done in the space available. He does a nice job with the action scenes and gives enough ‘gun porn’ info for those so inclined. All in all I enjoyed the book and will continue with the series. If, like me, you are a fan of early spy fiction, Modesty Blaise is worth a look.
Apparently Bob Dylan’s famous Wayfarer-style sunglasses aren’t the only ones people are interested in ID-ing. Slate.com’s article The Coolest Sunglasses Mystery puts out a call for any information people might have on the make/model of the sunglasses Cary Grant wore in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “North by Northwest.”