When I learned recently that lovely South African actress Charlize Theron would be starring in a movie titled Atomic Blonde, I was, well, more than a bit perplexed. After all, I associated that playful title with the notably racy 1963 paperback shown above, credited to author Monte Steele (which may or may not have been a pseudonym). As Michael Hemmingson explains in his blog, Those Sexy Vintage Sleaze Books, Steele’s yarn—which carries cover art by Robert Bonfils—focuses around a “tongue-in-cheek tough guy, murder, and lots of sex.” He goes on to offer this plot brief:
The narrator of Atomic Blonde is Johnny Stone, an insurance fraud investigator in Desert City, Nevada, who happens upon a platinum blonde bombshell with a flat tire and a pink Caddy. He offers to help fix the flat but she keeps telling him no; but, being the ladies’ man and gentleman he is, with the possibility of getting some blonde pussy, Johnny doesn’t listen to her—and when he opens her trunk to get the jack, he finds the … dead body of a man and a diamond head rattlesnake.As you might have surmised by this point, Steele’s “mindless entertainment” of a novel was not the inspiration for Theron’s Atomic Blonde. Instead, the screenplay was inspired by a 2012 graphic novel, The Coldest City, by Antony Johnston. Wikipedia says “the film takes place in Berlin, 1989, on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the shifting of superpower alliances. Lorraine Broughton [Theron], a top-level spy for MI6, is dispatched to Berlin to take down a ruthless espionage ring that has just killed an undercover agent for reasons unknown. She is ordered to cooperate with Berlin station chief David Percival [James McAvoy], and the two form an uneasy alliance, unleashing their full arsenal of skills in pursuing a threat that jeopardizes the West’s entire intelligence operation.”
The blonde takes off in his car.
Then two thugs try to kill him—they keep trying to kill him throughout the book, which takes place in 48 hours.
In that 48 hours, Johnny has sex with half a dozen women, from maids to whores to the blonde and his own girlfriend, Carol, who has no idea what a pussyhound he is—or does she? She does get him to marry her in the end.
This action-oriented spy picture also stars John Goodman, Toby Jones, and Sofia Boutella. It’s set for a July 28 U.S. release. (You can watch a trailer here.) The only things it may have in common with Steele’s 54-year-old softcover tale are what Hemmingson defines as “prolonged sex scenes and moments of hard-boiled violence”—two elements that are much in demand by today’s film-goers.
READ MORE: “The Coldest City Warms Up to Atomic Blonde, and Charlize Keeps Spying,” by Matthew Bradford (Double O Section).