Sinister Cinema: Taxi!

For the sixth adventurous outing into his new series Pulps in the Movies, John Locke picks up on one of those reliable newsstand scenes he’s mentioned.

Too bad Cagney himself isn’t killing time in the frame, but for movie buffs I think the spotlighted actor will do just fine: an uncredited Nat Pendleton, whose mug any Hammett fan ought to know from his role as Inspector John Guild in the Thin Man series.

Take it away, John:

Here’s a scene from Taxi!, a 1931 Jimmy Cagney film. I had a hunch that this streetwise story would cough up some pulp and, sure enough, I didn’t have to wait long.

This newsstand shot appeared just after the six-minute mark.

The image occurs early in the shot. Within moments, another character enters the scene, obscures the view, and the camera rises, losing the logos along the bottom row: All-Story Love, Sport Story Magazine, and Flying Aces.

Pulps were often used as cheap sight gags that upended audience expectations: the nice little old lady is reading a grisly murder story mag, or the tough old buzzard is reading a romance pulp.

The usage here seems to fit that pattern.

The film is set in New York City, the world’s most built-up metropolis, but the hardboiled city boys dream of the wide-open spaces of the West, represented by western pulps being featured on the stand.

Both the Far West Stories and Triple-X Western are the October 1931 issues, which went on sale in September. The film’s earliest release was in the UK on December 29, 1931. All of which probably means that the prop department bought the magazines fresh off the newsstand just before the scene was shot.

Films traveled from set to theater a lot faster in those days, a point further confirmed by the movie’s semi-coherent plot.

But you can’t go wrong with Cagney.

And thanks as always to Galactic Central for providing their extensive galleries of cover images, without which the pulps in these movies would be really, really hard to identify.

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