Time for a new collection of raunchy pulp art from a bygone era! These are some covers that I’ve come across here and there, and every one of ’em gets me thinking about The Naked Dame. You could say that it’s exactly these kinds of naughty noir paperbacks that made me want to add my own take to this wonderfully prurient genre.
I try to put myself into the shoes of those readers 50-60 years ago. First of all, where were paperbacks like Brazen Seductress sold? I can’t imagine they were on racks at the drug store. Or perhaps so. In an age when motion pictures were heavily censored by strict codes, were these types of stories actually permitted within easy reach of impressionable children? Hmmm. And if that was the case, were they hot items for local hoodlum boys to shoplift? I love that sense of an undercurrent of filth beneath the conservative atmosphere of 1950s America.
It’s easier for me to imagine that the prime audience for these sinful guilty pleasures was a guy just like me. And now is the part of this blog post where I begin to reveal waaaaaay too much about myself. Because when I look at the Wild Flesh image to the left, um, yeah, that’s quite enticing. There’s something about this kind of voyeuristic exhibitionism that appeals to a basic—or rather base—element deep inside me as a still-adolescent American male. Do you look down on me when I point out the sheer amount of erect wood in the background?
Another part of the appeal of this particular cover is the copy at the bottom. “She had the face of an angel, the body of a whore, and the mind of a killer.” I love that. The blunt language. The nasty imagery. See also the cover copy of Brazen Seductress: “They were all gorgeous hell-raisers.” These aren’t objectified females but rather women of intelligent and dark machinations. They’re not victims in their stories. They’re the principle antagonists. And that’s one of the pure joys of pulp fiction. The women can be strong, sharp, and five steps ahead of the men around them.
On that note, here’s another great cover. Look at her! That is a woman who knows what she wants, and according to the title, she’s going to get it. Obviously, the overt meaning of the title and image is sexual (“She’ll get what’s coming to her!”), but the underlying meaning is something conniving, something more clever and more intricate than flesh-based pursuits. Or perhaps, judging from the way she’s holding her left arm, what she’s really about to get is the Salk polio vaccination.
It’s hard to say. Or rather, it’s not. Because, let’s face it, just look at the expression in her eyes. Pure sultry come-on. And that arm isn’t adjusting her dress; no, it’s actually the forearm that’s containing her unbridled heaving bosom. Or words to that effect.
I can’t help but also notice her impossibly demure waist, and the generous posterior suggested by the crimson hoop dress, itself a callback to more “innocent” times, even as her upper body is all sin. Oh, she’s a wet hot mess of contradictions. And men will fall prey to her, no question.
In Counter Girl, we see even more in-your-face sensuality—thrust forward as a challenge rather than pulled back as a come-on. “Men couldn’t keep their eyes on the menu, nor their thoughts on food, when Carrie leaned over and innocently asked, ‘Would you like something else?'”
Oh, she knows what she’s doing. What she’s asking
But in this case, the cover copy is in direct contradiction with the image of her opposite-of-innocent face and partially bared chest. The only innocence on display here is in the stack of clean white dishes behind this fevered vixen. It’s no wonder that napkin dispenser is empty.
What to make of Chains of Silk? “She let him know she would keep him in style … as long as he could keep her satisfied.” Here we have a culmination of what I’ve talked about: the woman in control, using her sexuality for her ultimate gain. She’s in the position of power, whereas the man is prone, helplessly in her thrall, gazing up at her, and she might as well be in an attack position, a knife in her upraised hand.
Chains … the notion of kidnap or incarceration … a position of power … the suggestion of a weapon … When asked about pulp-fiction genre tropes, would you have guessed that the man would be the victim of all that? Surprisingly, this is often the case. Men are weak, with predictable personalities and one-note motivations. Women are the strong ones, the ones in control of the entire world. And all the while, there’s her ass.
Because that’s what it all comes down to. Luring us in with the fleshy imagery, and then grabbing us by the balls. Just as in the classic noir stories, the women (on the cover) entice us with their feminine charms, quietly, innocently, and before long we’re wrapped up in a tale of deception and woe, and the men are slapped to the curb, and the women get exactly what they want. The publisher, too.
And on that note, go buy The Naked Dame! Look at her, all innocent and helpless. She needs your help. Right?