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
Seth
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.

Indeed.

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



Frustration
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.

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