A Soggy Bowl of PULP (United Artists 1972)


They had the hook in me, and I was caught like a large mouth bass. The bait was the stuff my dreams were made of, a heady concoction of gangsters and femmes fatale, of faded Hollywood stars and references to Mickey Spillane and Ross MacDonald. I had let my guard down and plunged headlong into the trap, forgetting you can’t judge a book by its cover, especially one luridly titled PULP.


It all started so promisingly. I was introduced to Mickey King, a second-rate English hack writing under the pseudonym “Guy Strange”, scribbler of paperback trash like “Kill Me Gently” and “My Gun is Long”. Mick’s paid a visit by a gravel-voiced goon called Dinuccio, a Neanderthal throwback who hires the wordsmith to ghost a biography for his mysterious boss. Next thing Mickey knows, he’s on a tour bus and told he’ll be contacted. An American named Miller could be the one, but Miller soon turns up dead, knifed in a bathtub that was supposed to be Mickey’s. The room gets cleaned and the body vanishes, and Mickey’s met by Liz Adams, a gorgeous young dame whose sugar daddy is none other than ex-Hollywood movie gangster Preston Gilbert.


It’s Preston who summoned Mickey, eager to tell his story before he goes to meet his maker. Mickey’s taken to the old ham’s island villa to work on the bio. Dinuccio’s there too, and after a week passes, they return to the mainland. Preston goes back every year to commemorate his father’s death, but this year he joins pop as he gets rubbed out by a priest. Mickey’s told Preston held a deep, dark secret involving an old scandal, and the powers that be want to keep it very confidential, hush-hush, and on the QT. The writer in Mickey won’t let it rest in peace though, and he discovers that truth can be stranger than fiction.

PULP runs out of steam quicker than a broken iron. Writer/director Mike Hodges had made the previous year’s GET CARTER, a British gangster saga that was a hit on both sides of the ocean. He reteamed here with CARTER’s star Michael Caine , but the film doesn’t quite gel. Most of the blame goes to Hodges’ meandering script, which starts out so good before fizzling like a wet firecracker. Caine (who also produced) is fine as the purveyor of potboilers caught up in this mess, but the material he’s given isn’t up to par.


Mickey Rooney plays Preston Gilbert, and he’s… well, subtle he ain’t! Rooney had a tendency to go over the top, which works for slapstick farce like IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD , but in this he needed to be more reigned in by director Hodges. Screen vets Lionel Stander (Dinuccio) and Lizabeth Scott are on hand, but aren’t given much to work with. Nadia Cassini (Liz) was known mostly for her Italian sex farces. Al Lettieri (Sollozo in THE GODFATHER) appears all too briefly as Miller. Dennis Price (KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS) plays a “Mysterious Englishman” with a Lewis Carroll obsession. Robert Sacchi, whose claim to fame was an uncanny resemblance to Humphrey Bogart, plays a Bogie-esque cop for no other reason than he looks like Bogie.

PULP didn’t work for me at all. The intriguing premise fell flatter than an all-night diner’s pancake before the film was halfway through. It tries hard, but Hodges’ script and direction leave the film colder than a dead mackerel. Better you should go find a good 40’s B&W noir, and skip this soggy bowl of PULP entirely.

Still Funny After All These Years: Harold Lloyd in THE MILKY WAY (Paramount 1936)


Harold Lloyd was one of the “Big 3” comedy stars of the Silent Era, right up there with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in popularity. I’ve viewed and enjoyed comic gems like SAFETY LAST and THE FRESHMAN, and some of his hilarious shorts. His bespectacled, energetic character was wildly popular in the Roaring Twenties, but with the advent of sound and The Great Depression, audiences turned away from Harold’s brand of comedy. Recently, I watched 1936’s THE MILKY WAY and wondered why they did, because Harold Lloyd was just as funny as ever in it, and the film is just as good as any screwball comedy of the era.


Harold plays Burleigh Sullivan, a milquetoast milkman constantly in hot water for failing to meet his quotas. When a pair of drunken ruffians try to hit on his sister, meek Burleigh is forced to come to her defense. A fight breaks out, and Burleigh emerges from the pile victorious. The fight hits the papers because it seems Burleigh has knocked out the world’s middleweight champion! In reality, the milkman never touched him… he’s just a good ducker, and the champ’s friend did the slugging (seems Burleigh was picked on by bullies in his schooldays, and learned how to dodge a punch).

The champ’s manager, shifty “Honest” Gabby Sloan, tries to persuade Burleigh to get in the ring, but timid Burleigh declines. When Burleigh’s beloved milk wagon horse Agnes falls ill, the milkman changes his mind, needing money for the sick nag. What Burleigh doesn’t realize is Sloan and his gang plan on setting him up with a series of pugs taking dives so they can clean up at the box office for the big matchup between Burleigh and champ Speed McFarlane.


It’s all pretty silly, but serves as a showcase for Lloyd’s comedic gifts. His physical agility is put to good use, he has a fine voice that fits his personality, and I really don’t understand why he wasn’t able to make the successful transition to talkies. After one more starring vehicle, 1938’s PROFESSOR BEWARE, Lloyd was off the screen until teaming with director Preston Sturges for THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK (1947), a sequel to Lloyd’s silent hit THE FRESHMAN.


Lloyd is surrounded by a solid supporting cast, led by Adolphe Menjou as the scheming promoter Gabby. Gravel voiced Lionel Stander is dimwitted henchman Spider, William Gargan the chump of a champ, and Verree Teasdale (Mrs. Menjou offscreen) Gabby’s wisecracking moll. Helen Mack (star of SON OF KONG) plays sister Mae, Dorothy Wilson is Burleigh’s girl Polly (they “meet cute” when Harold needs a phone to call a doctor for his horse at 3AM), and Marjorie Gateson is a scream as society matron Mrs. Winthrop Lemoyne (who Harold gives a ducking lesson to in another funny scene). Charles Lane plays a reporter, Murry Alper a cabbie, and if you look real close, you’ll spot Anthony Quinn making his film debut as a fight spectator.


Leo McCarey was an old pro when it came to directing comedy. McCarey got his start at Hal Roach studios, working with the likes of Charlie Chase and Laurel & Hardy. When talkies arrived, he was the go-to guy for the top comedians of the day: The Marx Brothers (DUCK SOUP ), W.C. Fields, Burns & Allen, Mae West. McCarey won two Oscars in his career, for 1937’s screwball hit THE AWFUL TRUTH and the sentimental 1944 GOING MY WAY. Many of you are probably familiar with Harold Lloyd’s silent classics, but don’t take his talkies for granted. If they’re anything like THE MILKY WAY, they’ll be worth watching.



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