Sad Young Men Across the Pond

The Heart in Exile by Rodney Garland, W.H. Allen 1953

Cover line: A disturbingly frank novel of homosexuality in London

I discovered this gay British novel, not precisely a pulp but on the pulpy end of the spectrum, through a citation in my favorite book of 2015, The Spiv and The Architect. “Queer novels of the 1950s frequently exploited the continued currency of the traditional moral economy of furniture and design as a useful device for highlighting the domestic propriety of their respectable ‘homosexual’ protagonists,” wrote author Richard Hornsey, using The Heart in Exile as his example. He ties the novel’s detailed description of a bachelor flat to the way “a specter of malignant queerness haunted modern design,” leading to the perception of modern furniture as “an agent of corruption that would seduce children from the normative rituals of family life.” Who wouldn’t be intrigued?

The Plot: The suicide that ends many pulps starts this one. Tony Page, a queer, currently celibate psychiatrist takes on a new patient, Ann Hewitt. Continue reading

Now You See Them

It’s funny how much flies right over your head when you’re young and ignorant. For example, when I first read A Streetcar Named Desire, I totally missed the fact that Stanley rapes Blanche; I thought their only problem was the way Blanche hogged the bathroom (listen, I was only twelve). Even more embarrassing, I’ve watched The Third Man literally dozens of times, but it was only the other night, at Noir City 2014‘s Castro screening that I realized two of the supporting players form a gay couple.

How could I have missed them? Baron Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch) with his little dog and heavy eyeliner, and Dr. Winkle (“Doctor Vinkle” he corrects the hero unsmilingly) played by Erich Ponto. Winkle’s the straight-acting half of this menage, who gives himself away by his attempts to conceal his more flamboyant partner. “Isn’t that the Baron’s dog?” Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) asks when he’s visits the doctor to question him about Harry Lime’s death. Winkle denies it, shooing the dog into another room and closing the door. Through a glass pane, light gleams, hinting at an unseen presence. “I have company,” he says, anxious to get rid of the importunate Holly.

Is he wearing a bathrobe in that scene? I don’t remember, but  both men make their final appearance in morning-after deshabille, standing next to each other on their wintry balcony while Holly shouts to them from the street. Kurtz is carrying his little dog, and their elegant dressing gowns and carefully knotted foulards are the 1948 equivalent of being caught in flagrante delicto. “Come up!” invites Kurtz, but Holly declines. “I like it out in the open.” What, precisely, is the danger? Is it their involvement in Vienna’s black market penicillin racket, or the more ancient air of corruption and decadence they exude? It hardly matters that the sinister ambiance that hangs over them like a fog resolves itself into an identifiable crime. Gays are criminals and criminals are gay.

In fact, they join a lineup of gay criminals who crowd the margins of the screen in film noir, crime thrillers, and B-movies, a procession of doubly guilty characters who culminate in the over-the-top offensiveness of Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, homo assassins in the 1971 James Bond flick Diamonds Are Forever.

All those viewings and I never saw them. Probably my unwordliness when I first watched the film (most likely on television in my early teens) persisted like an after-image, blinkering me until last Friday at the Castro. Until then the two men operated on me as I suppose director Carol Reed and author Graham Greene intended — easy cinematic shorthand for evil, a way to offer a whiff of  unheimlichkeit without waking up the censor.

Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) sprays himself with perfume while his partner in murder-for-hire and life, Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) sits by.

Sad Young Men of LA

The Why Not, Victor Banis, A Greenleaf Classic, 1966

Best Line: “The Why Not represented everything he disliked about gay bars–screaming faggots, drag queens, rough trade. It was cheap and tawdry and, probably because of those qualities, successful.”

The above describes the book as well as the bar. I’ve been doing a little research on gay male pulp, in preparation for the upcoming pulp panel, and from what I’ve read The Why Not was the Women’s Barracks of the genre, a ground-breaking novel that led the way for books like Midtown Queen and Hot Pants Homo. Continue reading