16 June 2017

A Forgotten Film of a Hidden Novel

The Spring Issue of Canadian Notes & Queries arrived in the mail yesterday, pushing aside all other reading. Sorry, Kenneth Orvis. As the cover says, this one focusses on film. Matthew Hays has an article on Claude Jutra, the man and the scandal. Natalie Atkinson writes about A Cool Sound From Hell, 1959 film noir set in Toronto. Anthony Easton covers Vixen!, Russ Meyer's Canadian sexploitation film. Chase Joint looks at the animation of Jess Mac, while Rob Benvie's 'Make It Dangerous' explores Canadian film's punk sensibility.

My contribution is a look at Intent to Kill, a feature film from '58, based on the suppressed Brian Moore novel of the same title. If this sounds at all familiar, it may be because I've written before about both the novel (here) and the film (herehere, and here). They are endlessly fascinating.

Other contributors include:
Tamara Faith Berger
Jeff Bersey
Paige Cooper
Jason Dickson
Matthew Forsythe
Stephen Fowler
Alex Good
Rohan Maitzen
David Mason
James Pollock
JC Sutcliffe
Bruce Whiteman
Catriona Wright
Alissa York!
We all worked under the watchful eyes of Emily Donaldson.

Subscriptions to CNQ – the perfect Father's Day gift – can be purchased through this link.

Next issue will be the magazine's 100th. You don't want dad to miss that, do you?

05 June 2017

Frustration, Part II: Paint a Vulgar Picture

So, how was your weekend?

Regular readers will remember that I ended last week's post on Henry C. Clayton's very, very bad Frustration by recommending the novel. There are several reasons why you should read it, and all have to do with the past.

Like any work of fiction – historical novels included – Frustration is of its time, and reveals a good deal about same. A News Stand Library title, it was sold through news stands, not book stores. A cheap thing, it was not built to last much beyond its November 1949 pub date. News Stand Library didn't last long either, but in its brief history, it published several novels about men who make a living as artists. My favourite is Artists, Models and Murder by Toronto-based comic book artist Tedd Steele.

You can see why these books appealed to post-war commuters. Painting nudes for a living is far preferable to, say, processing overdue payments in the accounts department at Sun Life.

Maybe that's just me.

Tony Pearce, the protagonist of Frustration, paints nudes for a living. Some of his canvasses end up in high-end Manhattan art galleries, but most are used in ads for Joyous Brassieres and more restrictive undergarment manufacturers: "The moguls of feminine underthings were well aware that the touch of genius in Tony's renderings of the body beautiful gave them an out-of-this-world quality which caused men to lick their lips and some wives to first fume, then rush out to buy the same type of girdle in the hope, never realized, that they would look like that." The most unusual thing about Tony's craft is revealed three pages into the novel:
There was the cynical, flippant Tony Pearce who painted gloss nudes, adroitly exaggerating a curve here on the bust, adding length to the thigh there, and so causing virile men to become restless and their wives to rage with futile envy. Tony never put the garments on his creations. They were added to the nude, with just the proper degree of transparency, by air-brush experts at the advertising agency.
Today's ad agencies would have no use for Tony – nor air-brush artists – though the manipulation of the female form continues. That in itself makes this novel interesting, but the main reason one should read Frustration has nothing to do with advertising.

Spoilers follow:

The murderer in Frustration – three bodies in total – is Tony's friend Eileen Henley. A talented artist, and smart as a whip, Eileen has by far the most attractive personality in the novel... and yet she is a spinster. To Tony, Eileen is beautiful in every single way except that she walks with "a slight limp." Minutes after meeting Eileen, Tony turns to his agent, Johnny Kozak, and says: "I liked her. Too bad she's crippled."

Tony is sometimes distracted from Eileen's limp by "the swelling of her breasts and the enticing valley between," and so he must remind himself that she is a cripple. Nevertheless, our hero enjoys Eileen's company and is often tempted to give her a kiss. As the novel draws to an end, author Henry C. Clayton rushes things along by having Tony take Eileen to the Stork Club, then really ramps it up:
Funny, wasn't it? The girl he would fall for wasn't perfect – and maybe that was why. Physically perfect girls were a dime a dozen. But the fact that she could ignore her infirmity so blithely, that she could climb the ladder of her career with any sears on her soul, that meant that Eileen was a girl in a thousand.
After eats, Tony ends up at his date's Sutton Place flat, where she slips into something more diaphanous:
Eileen came back in to the room and he stared. She was wearing a thin black negligee – and nothing else, and her hair was down on her shoulders. He hardly noticed her limp until her saw clearly her left leg was thinner than the other. Not much, but enough to show. It wasn't nearly as bad as he thought it would be.
Yes, not nearly as bad as he thought it would be, but Eileen has let slip something that suggests she just might be the triple-murderer. Tony doesn't do anything about it because her negligee falls open and he is fairly choked by "the heat of her breasts."

Next thing you know, Tony is struggling for breath as Eileen tries to strangle him with a strip of canvas. Fortunately, Tony is able to fish a penknife from his pocket and cut the fabric. Eileen says she has to pee and commits suicide in the bathroom. This leaves our hero to explain her motive:
The girl had beauty and talent, a rare combination, and yet she was deformed. She had a passionate nature, and yet it would be difficult for her to find a husband, a decent husband who was on her own intellectual level.
And so, you see, she killed.

"Different times," remarked my wife.


Researching this piece, I learned that last year the World Health Organization recorded just forty-two cases of polio worldwide. It is expected that next year the disease will be eradicated completely.

This information felt good. But it was followed that same day by a video from The Rebel's in-house Jew-hater Gavin McInnes:, in which we find these words:
Who doesn't want to know a handicapped person? That's cooler than a black friend. I want to at least have a friend with, like, a lobster claw. You need that in your repertoire. Friends are baseball cards. You need some freaks in the mix.

Different times.

Frustration is a novel I won't forget. I recommend it to anyone who has so much as a passing interest in the portrayal of the physically challenged in popular fiction.

The Rebel is also recommended. Know thine enemy.

Note: Gavin McInnes is not a "drunk Scotsman," as he claims. He was born in Herefordshire and grew up in Ottawa. That said, I do believe he is a drunk.

Object: A cheap, poorly-produced 158-page mass market paperback, reading Frustration proved to be more challenging than the average New Stand Library title.

I purchased my copy three years ago from bookseller Nelson Ball. Price: $6.00.

Not on WorldCat. Four copies are listed for sale online. Get one while you can!

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01 June 2017

Frustration, Part I: Paint Over Passion

Henry C. Clayton
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

Tony Pearce's nudes are sold in Manhattan's finest galleries, but the really big bucks come from Madison Avenue. He's the artist of choice for Joyous Brassieres, Silky Scanties, a number of girdle companies, and Sparkle deodorant. What Tony does with all that money remains a mystery to this reader. He lives alone in a flat that doubles as his studio, eats and drinks courtesy of other's expense accounts, and is a complete skinflint when it comes to paying his models. The first we encounter, Luba Belleau, "a lush brunette with glistening up-thrust breasts and sleek thighs," is a favourite. One evening, because he's cheap, he hitches a ride with an agency art director to a party being held at a sprawling mansion on Long Island Sound. More free booze and eats. As in a fantasy – mine at twenty – he's approached by a tall, beautiful woman in an evening gown: "Well, fancy meeting you here."

Tony pretends to recognize her, as one does. Fortunately, before things get too awkward, the beauty drops a clue.
"Someday, Tony, you must paint me like this. I've always wanted to be be painted in something swish." She swirled around in front of him, smiling provocatively, and the movement jolted his brain. Good heavens, it was Luba!
     He said lightly, "I hardly knew you with your clothes on."
They walk along the beach and have sex, I guess:
Her resilient body pressed against him demandingly until the moon rocked in the star-studded dome overhead
     Then Luba went limp against him and whispered into his chest, "Oh Tony!"
Whatdoya think? Did they do it? If Tony had gone limp I'd be more certain.

The morning after, Luba arrives at the studio ready for more, but Tony, ever the professional, is intent on continuing work on her portrait. "It was like a douche of cold water." As Friday approaches, Luba suggests a dirty weekend in the Poconos. Tony agrees, and although he does feel a bit bad about it all – Luba is a married woman – they have a great Saturday together. Things cool down that evening when Luba gets all naked and lies down on top of the bed.
The bathroom door opened and Tony entered in his pyjamas. He walked over and gazed down at her for a moment, then exclaimed, "God, Luba, but you are beautiful!"
     He stepped back a pace and mused, "There's something radiant about you – something ethereal."
     Her eyes were black pools. She murmured happily, "You like me, Tony?"
     Tony shook his head admiringly, "Damn it, this is terrific." He turned and opened his bag, fumbling around anxiously.
     "What are you looking for, darling?" Luba smiled in expectation.
     "Oh," said Tony, "I'm looking for my sketching pad."
     "Your what?" Luba raised up on one elbow.
     "It's okay, I've found it."
Luba bursts into tears and accuses Tony of being a "pansy". Frankly, I was beginning to wonder if the man didn't have some sort of clothing fetish; he'd never so much as touched her unless she was dressed. And what's with the PJs?

Luba takes off in the rented car, leaving Tony to find a way back to New York. Two days later, her strangled body is fished out of the East River.

Tony has an alibi, having attended a small get-together hosted by fellow artist and brand new friend Eileen Henley. The same alibi proves handy when Luba's husband is also found murdered.

As mysteries go, Frustration is... well, frustrating. Lieutenant O'Hara's police investigation is slowed because Tony lies and neglects to pass on key information. The artist tries to solve the murder himself, and author Clayton cheats by having Tony focus exclusively on two men who prove to be innocent. Ultimately, the murderer is revealed only when caught trying to kill again, leaving Tony to put all the pieces together as O'Hara nods in agreement.

Frustrating, but not without some value. In fact, I recommend this very bad novel. There's a specific reason why, and so much to write in this regard (and so much that is spoiler) that I'm going to save it for Monday. You know, after the weekend.

Keep it clean, everyone.

Related post:

29 May 2017

The Dusty Bookcase at 1000

Last Tuesday's post marked the one thousandth since this blog began. I saw it coming, took my eye off the ball, and didn't notice when it hit. Nevertheless, that post, on a lost film adaptation of a once-popular work by one-time bestselling author Ralph Connor, seems appropriate enough. The Dusty Bookcase began in early 2009, with a review of novelist Brian Moore's suppressed debut Sailor's Leave (a/k/a Wreath for a Redhead). The idea back then, as it is now, was to read and review all the suppressed, ignored and forgotten Canadian books I've been collecting.

I'm falling behind.

One thousand. I thought I'd mark the start of second thousand by listing the ten most visited posts in this blog's history. For obvious reasons, older posts have an advantage. These aren't necessarily my favourites, you understand, but the fans have spoken!
A collection of covers (with commentary) depicting the heroine of Governor General's Award-winning poet John Glassco's pornographic novel. I suspect it's popularity was boosted somewhat by a New York dominatrix's use of the same name. 
The post was later expanded upon – more images  for A Gentleman of Pleasure, the blog used to promote my Glassco biography of the same same. 
The first of four posts – here are the second, third, and fourth – on the surreal covers produced by rip-off artists VDM Publishing. Recommended reading for anyone who still needs convincing that Amazon knows no shame. 
She haunts us still, I suppose, but then so do the rest of the family. Another Trudeau title features below, and pretty much everything I wrote that included the surname proved popular: Sex and the Trudeaus: The Bachelor Canada, Sex and the Trudeaus: Son and Hair, Pierre Trudeau's Letter to the Children of Troy, Trudeau Redux: Compare and Contrast, Trudeau Redux: Compare and Contrast II, Wishing the Prime Minister Dead, Trudeaumania II
My posts on Stephen Harper – on his forgotten speech and his forgotten hockey book – deserve more attention. 
A revised and expended version of the post on Margaret Trudeau: The Prime Minister's Runaway Wife features in my forthcoming book, The Dusty Bookcase
Jalna's Dirty Little Secret (Parts I & II) 
I had an awful lot to say about this awful book and the awful television series that encouraged its publication – so much that I had to cut it in half. Both halves will feature – revised – in the forthcoming Dusty Bookcase book. 
Have I mentioned it can be bought here
Forget VDM, no print on demand publisher has given me more enjoyment than Tutis Classics. This was my first post about these crooks, though my favourite is It's Tutis Time, posted a few weeks later. Sadly, Tutis is no more. Fortunately, their covers remain.
Maria Monk's Immortal Book 
My earliest writing on Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk (1837), the oldest book reviewed here, proved to be one of the most commented upon posts in the blog's eight years. The book and associated scandale are also the subjects of ongoing research and a future book.
Galt's Damaged Pastor Novelist 
A post about the forgotten and unlucky Robert E. Knowles, whose debut novel, St. Cuthbert's, was the most torturous read of my life.
Who dares deny the popularity of Harriet Marwood? Posted less than a month into the blog, this piece on The English Governess was the third in a four-part series focussing on the four Olympia Press titles written by Canadians: Diane Bataille's The Whip Angels, John Glassco's complete of Aubrey Beardsley's Under the Hill (by far the most attractive volume the press ever produced), Glassco's pseudonymously published The English Governess, and Jock Carroll's Bottoms Up (inspired by his assignment to photograph Marilyn Monroe at Niagara Falls). 
The English Governess is the best of the lot. 
A slight post about a slim book of humour, I can't quite get over its popularity. Michelle Le Grand, Alison Fay, I'd love to hear from you!
It may be word "pornography". Seven years ago, a post I'd titled A Prudish Policewoman's Porn attracted visitors by the thousands. Click on the link and imagine their disappointment! 
Must say, I find the popularity of this old post, which draws on images from various editions of Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, encourages work on my Maria Monk book. 

More to come. For now, I'd like to thank readers and fellow bloggers who have been supportive these past one thousand posts: Patti Abbott, John Adcock, BowdlerCurtis Evans, Le FlâneurKristian Gravenor TracyK, Leaves & PagesJean-Louis LessardMelwyk, J.R.S. MorrisonJ.F. NorrisNoah Stewart, and the late, much-missed Ron ScheerThe Dusty Bookcase would've become mouldy without you.

23 May 2017

The Critical Age: Thoughts on a Film I'll Never See

Motion Picture News, 1 September 1923
In the opening scene of The Patriot, the 1998 motion picture adaptation of William C. Heine's The Last Canadian, small town immunologist Wesley McClaren (Steven Seagal) ropes cattle on his Montana ranch. The second scene shows McClaren working to save the life of a sickly young calf, as hired hand Frank (L.Q. Jones) looks on. In the third, local neo-Nazi militia leader Floyd Chisolm (Gailard Sartain) whips up his followers in a compound surrounded by the Feds.

McClaren doesn't feature in The Last Canadian, nor does Frank, nor does Floyd Chisolm, nor does the entire State of Montana. Conversely, Gene Arnprior, the novel's protagonist does not feature in the film. In fact, The Last Canadian and The Patriot don't share a single character or setting. Not one scene from the novel is depicted in the film.

Because I'm a firm believer in research, and am a glutton for punishment, I've watched all ninety minutes of The Patriot and have read all 253 pages of The Last Canadian. Twice. I can attest that there is as much similarity between the two as there is between Armageddon and The Queers of New York.

I'm fairly certain that The Patriot is the least faithful screen adaptation of a Canadian novel, but can't say for sure because I'll never get the chance to see The Critical Age, the 1923 film based on Ralph Connor's Glengarry School Days. Like so many thousand other silents, The Critical Age is a lost film. Everything I know about it – which isn't much – comes courtesy of 94-year-old reviews, like this one, written by Laurence Reid for the May 19, 1923 edition of Motion Picture News:
We don't see the reason for calling it by its present title in view of the fact that the original story was known far and wide as ''Glengarry School Days." Perhaps they felt that it might not interest the customers who had emerged from adolescence. Some title more suitable than "The Critical Age" should have been employed. This is the only shaft of criticism which we can hurl at this neat little production, which is strong in atmosphere – which tells a story of political conflict without any tedium being suggested as is often the case in this type of plot.
     The original yarn carried quite a schoolroom background. It has not been neglected here. It serves here in introducing two highly adaptable players in James Harrison and Pauline Garon – as well as establishing the romance. The political sequences follow and bring forth the efforts of a rich Parliament member [sic] and his son to put over a bill which would dislodge the homesteaders. The romance carries on apace through the efforts of this son to win the daughter of another lawmaker from a young homesteader. The latter is successful in scenes which carry on with sufficient color [sic] and movement – scenes which take in the girl's rescue from the river and a mad ride in a motor car by the champion of the farmers who casts his vote in the nick of time.
Reviewer Reid assumes that the reader is familiar with Connor's novel. And why not? Glengarry School Days was an international bestseller. I expect I would have more than one shaft of criticism, but then I prefer adaptations that play some small deference to the source.

Maineiac Harlan Knight plays lead character Peter Gorach. James Harrison appears as Tom Findley, while Alice May brings life to his mother. Montrealer Pauline Garon, who would decades later land a bit part in How Green Was My Valley, plays love interest Maggie Baird. And then we have Wallace Ray as Bob Kerr, Raymond Peck as Senator Kerr, Marion Colvin as Mrs Baird, and William Colvin as Senator Baird. Not one of these characters appears in Glengarry School Days. The plot Reid describes in Motion Picture News will be entirely unfamiliar to readers of the novel.

The few surviving stills are equally unrecognizable.

Glengarry School Days does feature a heroic dog – name: Fido – who saves Hughie Murray from a bear attack. The son of a clergyman, young Hughie is the protagonist of Glengarry School Days, though he doesn't appear in the screen adaptation. In this way, he is no different than any of the other  characters in the novel. Parliament Hill does not feature and Ottawa isn't so much as referenced. No girl is rescued from a river. There is no mad ride in a motor car, which is not surprising when one considers that Glengarry School Days is set in the 1870s.

Despite my misgivings, I'd gladly give The Critical Age a chance. I expect it is more enjoyable than The Patriot, if only because, at 46-minutes running time, it's barely half the length.

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22 May 2017

More Victoria Day Disaster Verse

The Toronto Daily Mail
25 May 1881
John Wilson Bengough's poem on the wreck of the Victoria on Victoria Day, 1881, off the banks of the Canadian Thames. Published in his Motley: Verses Grave and Gay – most certainly an example of the former –  it joins Ingersoll Cheese Poet James McIntyre's succinct "Disaster to Steamer Victoria at London" as verse inspired by the disaster. I honestly can't say which I prefer.

Motley: Verses Grave and GayJ.W. Bengough
Toronto: William Briggs, 1895

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