Vintage Pulp Mar 23 2010
Lesser-known noir The Big Combo is well worth a viewing.

In the old noirs criminal gangs are sometimes the Mafia, sometimes the Mob, and still other times the Syndicate. In this one the gang is the Combination, hence the title The Big Combo. While the film isn’t a big budget noir, it makes up in inventiveness what it lacks for dollars. Example: one thug who wears a hearing aid is about to be rubbed out. He begs for his life, and one of his executioners says, “I’ll do you a favor—you won’t hear the bullets.” He then snatches out the thug’s hearing aid and we see a silent close-up of muzzle flashes. The film is filled with visual treats like that, and as a bonus it has first-rate acting, with the lead Cornel Wilde even pulling off a crying scene. For real. He turns on the waterworks with no help from the make-up department and it’s an exceedingly rare feat for male actors during the 1950s.

Another characteristic of The Big Combo is its sexual undercurrents. One character is a stripper and during a backstage scene we get a surprising flash of her bikini-clad bottom. Meanwhile, Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman play two hired thugs who we’re supposed to suspect are gay. We’ve seen the great documentary The Celluloid Closet about the many gay characters hidden in old films, so we’re familiar with the hints screenwriters like to drop. In this case the relationship between Van Cleef and Holliman is clearer than usual, which makes us wonder if it was an accident or a deliberate attempt to push the envelope when Holliman utters the line, “I’m sick of swallowing sausage.” Shortly thereafter the two are dispatched via hand grenade, so unfortunately we don’t get to know any more about these two great characters.
We’ve already given away too much, so we’ll quit while we’re ahead. If you like film noir, definitely give this one a spin. It’ll be a good expenditure of time, we promise. Above you see the great Spanish language promo art for this underrated classic. It was released with the title Agente Especial in most Spanish speaking countries, but for Argentina the producers went with Gangsters in Fuga, which translates rather poetically as “Gangsters in Flight.” It first flew in the U.S. in 1955, and migrated to Argentina in the spring of 1956.


History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 22
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals of the Cold War.
March 21
1963—Alcatraz Closes
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
March 20
1916—Einstein Publishes General Relativity
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity. Among the effects of the theory are phenomena such as the curvature of space-time, the bending of rays of light in gravitational fields, faster than light universe expansion, and the warping of space time around a rotating body.
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