Pulp: A Tissue of Lies

In the house I now call home, I am surrounded by a great many works of art, from oils and etchings to ceramics and stained glass. When I moved in the walls were already crowded with images; and I felt strangely if understandably disconnected from them and my new surroundings. For this simple reason, our Welsh cottage soon came alight each evening in the ersatz glow of moving images imported from the Hollywood of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s (a few exceptions notwithstanding). These pictures are projected onto a blind behind which unfolds the celebrated beauty of the Welsh landscape which, on a cloudless night, is more silver than the screen. For weeks after moving here from New York City (back in November 2004), a move worthy of a Daphne du Maurier thriller, were it not for my genial partner, I was unable to draw the blinds without bursting into tears, no matter how serene the scenery (our living room view being this or, as the season changes, that).

Not that there weren’t objects in the house to which I could relate. In our library, for instance, I am greeted by the no-one-else-likes of Chaucer and Shakespeare (who, along with Francis Bacon, are being sent from room to room, with Bacon now diurnally aglow in the window of our bedchamber). These stained-glass likenesses were installed for the very purpose of making me, a former literary scholar, feel welcome, familiar, and understood. It is in the attic that I am harboring the rather more lowbrow art churned out by Hollywood’s advertising machinery, all of which feature my favorite leading lady, Ms. Claudette Colbert. The most recent acquisitions to my collection—a Valentine’s treat—are these two posters for The Secret Fury (1950), a thriller whose fierce but fallacious (and ultimately pointless) pushing I previously discussed after getting my hands on this piece of promotional literature.

The smattering of rousing captions that accompany the images sure smacks of desperation. How do you sell a forgettable thriller as a must-see? You resort to words and phrases like “kill” and “cold blood, “evil” and “insane,” “murder” and “monstrous secret” to align the indifferent material you are pushing with the neo-gothic literature known to sell. In radio dramatics, no words were more prominent than “murder” and “death.” “Love” doesn’t sell half as well as death. “Sex” might, but radio was too cautions to go where most minds—and the species at large—are on a regular basis. To this date, US entertainment is more tolerant of mutilation than titillation, owing chiefly if indirectly to the violence that is religion.

Even though its solution relies on a prominent visual clue, The Secret Fury was produced on radio by the Screen Guild. A recording of the broadcast is no longer extant; but a picture of its leads, Colbert and Robert Ryan, posing with the script appears in David R. Mackey’s Drama on the Air (1951). I don’t mind being taken in; in fact, looking at poster art like that (or this one for Colbert’s Sleep, My Love), I am approaching the dramatic territory of the radio thriller. I am being given just enough clues to let my mind’s eye imagine a pretty sensational picture.

2 Replies to “Pulp: A Tissue of Lies”

  1. Promotional posters can be – it seems, almost always are – so misleading. I wasn\’t terribly dazzled by Secret. The thing about it that I remember most fondly was the appearance of Peggy Lee\’s then husband, guitarist Dave Barbour – or, more specifically, his combo\’s playing of \”Jazz Me Blues.\” His role was that of the phony husband, wasn\’t it?

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  2. Frankly, my dear, I don\’t even recall. It\’s been a few years. The courtroom scene is dreadfully overblown and, aside from some gothic-lite touches in the attic scene, the film is lacking in atmosphere. Like the superior Whirlpool, Secret defies genre boundaries and attempts to redraw them, which makes for an uneasy confrontation and unsuccessful alignment of realism and romance. I enjoyed Vivian Vance in it, though.I have about thirty Colbert movies on tape; but our UK player/recorder won\’t accept them, nor transfer them to DVD. Technology! As I said, it\’s a curse.

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