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Spicy, Then and Now

This collection starts with “Worse than Death”

I’ve been reading old pulp stories, mainly by E. Hoffman Price. A few of them are spicy stories. That was the term for them. Yesterday’s short story was “Worse than Death,” first published in Spicy-Adventure Stories in 1935. The sex scenes are almost non-existent. He achieves titillation via costuming and description. For example, “Sitti Ayesha, reclining among a heap of cushions, looked like a cigarette ad come to life; her olive-tinted curves smiled tantalizingly through the shimmering silk that caressed her nicely rounded hips.

Yet the actual sex, at least in this story, although not in others, is men taking what they want. An entirely off-screen rape occurs as part of the plot. It wasn’t necessary. A nick of time prevention instead of the right after bursting in of the hero would be a better story, so I have to conclude it was part of the titillation.

So, my question becomes, is this story too tame for today or too violent. For those who claim the latter, how do you say that with the success of Fifty Shades of Grey.

In the context of the Price stories, I’ve been looking up a lot of Middle Eastern terms and stories, such as The Peacock Angel. Another story that came up in relation to his stories is The Queen of Sheba. One of the earliest films portraying this legend is the 1921 movie The Queen of Sheba starring Betty Blythe. One image from the film appears in the Wikipedia articles on Blythe and the film which I’m including.

Betty Blythe as the Queen of Sheba

The costume would fit many of Price’s descriptions of women in both his spicy and non-spicy tales. It would even be spicy today as the amount of exposure would lead to an R rating. Another still in the article for the movie shows her standing with even more exposure.

Having lived through actresses going topless being a big deal, culminating in Julie Andrews going topless in Blake Edward’s (her husband) movie S.O.B.

It is interesting that S.O.B. came out precisely sixty years after The Queen of Sheba, but its bare breasts were more arguably more controversial. I have found no evidence of controversy about Blythe’s costuming despite it being much more revealing.

I’ll also admit I like Blythe’s costuming more than the “hot” outfits women wear in movies these days, but I was raised on Barsoom and similar tales so that pseudo-Arabian Nights slave girl imagery has been with me forty-odd years.

“Triangle with Variations” opens this collection.

I think today, we limit our palettes of what is sexy and isn’t in too many ways. Not just costuming, but assumptions about us being more liberal than in the past, which seems to have been much more mixed than now. Easy access to porn probably doesn’t help because it runs roughshod over the subtle.

As for me, on top of my love of dancing harem girls, I’m coming to enjoy silk hugged curves and negligees such that “the edges of the filmy substitute for nudity weren’t on speaking terms…” The latter is from “Triangle with Variations”, my favorite spicy Price to date.

I like them much more than modern sexy.

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