Hollywoodland Dec 18 2013
FONTAINE OF YOUTH

When Joan Fontaine decided to try her luck in Hollywood her mother reportedly refused to let her use the family’s name—de Havilland, which was being used by her actress sister Olivia—so she chose Fontaine as her last name. After a slow start earning good roles she scored the coveted part of Mrs. De Winter in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Daphne du Maurier adaptation Rebecca and was nominated for an Academy Award. She didn’t win that one, but the next year took home the statuette for her role in Suspicion, becoming the only performer to win an Oscar for acting in a Hitchcock film. From there her career took off, and she worked steadily through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Ironically, when her mother—a former actress—decided to rekindle her own career she did so under the stage name Lillian Fontaine. Of her famous sister, Joan Fontaine once said, “I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it.” The third part of that quip came true when Fontaine—née Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland—died of natural causes Sunday in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 16 2013
REASONABLE DOUBT
The truth of a man is always revealed by the shape of the shadow he casts.

Above, a Swedish poster for Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Skuggan av ett tvivel, staring Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, and originally released in the U.S. as Shadow of a Doubt. The Swedish premiere of the movie was today in 1943, which might be a surprising fact for some, considering the ongoing calamity that was World War II, but Sweden was neutral during the conflict—or perhaps a better way to phrase it is to say it was occasionally helpful to both the Axis and Allies. Anyway, this is an excellent poster that tells the entire story of the film—an outwardly normal man is really a monster, and in the art casts a misshapen shadow that only one young, intuitive woman can see. The line across the top says, “One of Hitchcock’s best!” Of course, he would rise to even greater heights during the 1950s and 1960s, but some still regard this as top five Hitchcock. Us? Not so much, but see it and judge for yourself.

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Vintage Pulp Jul 23 2013
BAR NONE
Hitchcock presents thirteen excellent tales of terror.


Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Bar the Doors contains some of the best macabre fiction we’ve ever read. The collection begins with H.G. Wells’ violent, oppressive tale of murder and voodoo in Sierra Leone “Pollock and the Porroh Man.” The story was written in 1895 and comes with the sort of classical styling you might expect, but with a surprisingly modern pacing as the first paragraph finds the lead character caught in the middle of a stabbing. Pollock pulls a gun to defend himself and the Porroh Man flees, but not before casting an infuriated gaze back that promises revenge. Little does Pollock know that revenge can take supernatural form. You’d expect the tale to be laced with racism, and it is—this line from the first paragraph is simply amazing: “At any rate, the Porroh Man stabbed the woman through the heart as though he had been a mere low class Italian.” African characters fare far worse. However in this context of mortal struggle between a voodoo conjurer and a self-entitled Englishman, racism comes off as impotence against overwhelming powers. 

“Pollock and the Porroh Man” was written four years before Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Conrad’s work is a novella-length masterpiece, whereas Wells’ story is under ten pages, but Wells is quite successful at exploring a different heart of darkness by bringing to life the deepest colonial fear, the one chortling, brandy-swilling men laugh at as long as they’re in a well lit room bolstered by their own numbers—the fear that munitions and cruelty will suffice to maintain control only insofar as natives aren’t pushed too far. But when that day comes, when native peoples have had enough, then colonials will find that voodoo and magic are real, that technology is truly the illusion, and bloody payment is due for crimes committed against people that wanted only to be left alone.
 
There are other great stories in the collection—F. Marion Crawford’s “The Upper Berth” tells the tale of a man who has an unwanted supernatural visitor in his stateroom every night; Alfred Noyes’ “Midnight Express” preys on readers’ classic misgivings about deserted tube platforms; Ambrose Bierce’s “The Damned Thing” tackles the Lovecraftian theme of an other-dimensional beast that cannot be seen; and McKnight Malmar’s “The Storm” might be of interest to those who just experienced last night’s thunderous downpours in Great Britain. In fact, the entire collection is stormy night reading. Obviously, we very rarely discuss books in detail here, because—let’s face it—it’s tedious, but we’ve made an exception this time because Bar the Doors is an unusually good collection, first published in 1946 and reprinted numerous times, as the selection of alternate covers above reveals. Highly recommended.

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Vintage Pulp May 29 2012
REVOLUTIONARY NOIR
Only the good go to sleep at night.


The French coined the term film noir, so it seems only fitting to feature a collection of French posters celebrating the genre. Above and below are fifteen examples promoting films noir from France, Britain, and the U.S., representing some of the best ever produced within the art form, as well as some less celebrated examples that we happen to love. Of those, we highly recommend seeing Le salaire de la peur, for which you see the poster above, and Ride the Pink Horse, below, which played as Et tournent les chevaux de bois in France. Just a word about those films (and feel free to skip ahead to the art, because really, who has time these days to listen to a couple of anonymous internet scribes ramble on about old movies?).
 
1953’s Le salaire de la peur is about a group of men stranded in an oil company town in the mountains of South America. In order to earn the wages to get out, four of them agree to drive two trucks filled with nitroglycerine over many miles of dangerous terrain. The idea is to use the chemicals to put out a raging oil well fire that is consuming company profits by the second, but of course the film is really about whether the men can even get there alive. Le salaire de la peur was critically praised when released in Europe, but in the U.S., political factions raised their ugly heads and got censors to crudely re-edit the prints so as to reduce the movie’s anti-capitalist (and by extension anti-American) subtext. The movie was later remade by Hollywood twice—once in 1958 as Hell’s Highway, and again in 1977 as Sorcerer. The original is by far the best.

1947’s Ride the Pink Horse is an obscure noir, but a quintessential one, in our opinion. If many noirs feature embittered World War II vets as their anti-heroes, Robert Montgomery’s Lucky Gagin is the bitterest of them all. He arrives in a New Mexico border town on a quest to avenge the death of a friend. The plot is thin—or perhaps stripped down would be a better description—but Robert Montgomery’s atmospheric direction makes up for that. Like a lot of mid-century films featuring ethnic characters, the most important one is played by a white actor (Wanda Hendrix, in a coating of what looks like brown shoe polish). It's racist, for sure, but within the universe of the film Lucky Gagin sees everyone around him only as obstacles or allies—i.e., equals within his own distinct worldview. So that makes up for it. Or maybe not. In any case, we think Ride the Pink Horse is worth a look. Fourteen more posters below. 
 

 
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Vintage Pulp May 13 2011
CROWN JULES
There are eight million stories in The Naked City.

Above, a great French poster for Jules Dassin’s film noir La cité sans voiles, which was originally produced in the U.S. and called The Naked City. Dassin, who apprenticed under Alfred Hitchcock, was one of the quintessential noir directors, also helming 1947’s Brute Force, 1949’s Thieves’ Highway and 1950’s spectacular Night and the City. His career in the U.S. was ruined when he was named during the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s, forcing him to live the rest of his life in more tolerant France. The Naked City, while not Dassin’s best work, is certainly a significant piece, due to both its style and substance. Its tagline has become part of the American lexicon: "There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them." In 2007 the U.S. Library of Congress agreed that The Naked City was a special achievement when it selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically and aesthetically signifitcant.” La cité sans voiles premiered in France today in 1949. 

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Femmes Fatales Jul 21 2010
WINK POSITIVE
What a difference a Day makes.

American actress Laraine Day, who starred in The Locket with Robert Mitchum and in Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, seen here circa early ’40s.

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Vintage Pulp Feb 19 2010
HIGH FLYING BIRD
Argento’s first film was among his most restrained and most successful.

Above we've posted two Spanish one-sheets for El Pajaro de las Plumas de Cristal, aka L’uccello dale piume de cristallo, aka The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. This was horror grandmaster Dario Argento’s first film, a thriller in the Hitchcockian mode about an American in Italy who witnesses an attempted murder. The police make him stay in the country, and the would-be killer soon begins stalking him. In subsequent films, Argento would explore realms of gore Hitchcock probably never dreamt of, but in this early effort, he relies on mood to achieve his goals, and the English language version succeeds despite the distraction of some less than breathtaking dubbing. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage premiered in Italy today in 1970. The poster art is by another grandmaster, Spanish illustrator Francisco Fernandez Zarza-Pérez, who worked under the pseudonym Jano—aka Janus, the two-faced Roman god of doorways, arches, beginnings and endings. Jano painted thousands of pieces beginning in the 1940s, and we’ve cobbled a few more together and posted them below for you to enjoy this lovely Friday. More on Jano later. 

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Vintage Pulp Apr 23 2009
BE-HITCHED
Hitchcock means terror in any language.

We mentioned a while back how frequently we run across foreign language Hitchcock posters, so here are a bunch for your enjoyment, including yet another version of Vertigo. FYI, Il Sipario Strappato is Torn Curtain and Ptáci is The Birds.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 19 2009
WEIRD ENCHAINE OF EVENTS
Hitchcock spy caper may be improbable, but Grant and Bergman make it a winner.


Above, we have three beautiful French posters for Alfred Hitchcock’s spy thriller Les Enchaînés, aka Notorious, starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. In Brazil, just after WWII, Bergman vies with Nazis who are smuggling uranium ore inside wine bottles. Seems like they could think of a better way, but you can’t really quibble with screenwriter Ben Hecht, who wrote Spellbound, the original Kiss of Death, the original Scarface, the brilliant but underappreciated Ride the Pink Horse, and was a script doctor on Laura, Rope, Cry of the City and Strangers on a Train. Besides, there’s something seriously metaphorical going on with these bottles. We ain’t saying what—you’ll just have to watch the film. Les Enchaînés premiered in France today in 1948

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Vintage Pulp Mar 10 2009
GREAT SCOTTA
How do I love thee? Let me count the greenbacks.

Here’s a piece of beautiful poster art for Hajime Sato’s 1966 film L’Amore Scotta a Yokohama. The film was originally Japanese, with a Japanese cast, but in the painting you get a decidedly Italian-looking woman playing dirty with paper money. The film is difficult to find, so if you search for it prepare for frustration. But we really wanted to show you the art anyway, painted by Tarantelli—that must be Italian for genius. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 24
1915—Ship Capsizes on Lake Michigan
During an outing arranged by Western Electric Co. for its employees and their families, the passenger ship Eastland capsizes in Lake Michigan due to unequal weight distribution. 844 people die, including all the members of 22 different families.
1980—Peter Sellers Dies
British movie star Peter Sellers, whose roles in Dr. Strangelove, Being There and the Pink Panther films established him as the greatest comedic actor of his generation, dies of a heart attack at age fifty-four.
July 23
1984—Miss America Resigns
Vanessa Williams, who had been crowned Miss America and was the first African American woman to win the prize, resigns her title after Penthouse magazine purchases and slates for publication a series of lesbian-themed nudes Williams had posed for when she was younger. After resigning she files a $500 million lawsuit against Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione but later drops the suit.
July 22
1992—Cocaine Baron Escapes Prison
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, imprisoned leader of the Medellin drug cartel, escapes from a posh Colombian jail known as La Catedral after he learns authorities intend to move him to a real prison. His taste of freedom doesn't last—he's killed in a shootout a year-and-a-half later.

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