Bankhead and Co. try to deal with an ocean of differences.
The best thing about Lifeboat is Tallulah Bankhead. Simple as that. Top billed, tasked with bringing a complex character to life, and working in a film with huge expectations because it was written by literary laureate John Steinbeck and helmed by internationally renowned director Alfred Hitchcock, she delivers the goods. If you haven't seen it, it's an adventure and character study about a group of cruise ship passengers who survive a German u-boat attack and find themselves adrift on the Atlantic Ocean. There's a tinge of war propaganda to it, a touch of we're-humans-and-the-other-side-aren't, but when you consider that Germany was a genocidal regime, and news reports had been touching on this fact for two years (though visual evidence wouldn't appear until after May 1945) Lifeboat is remarkably subtle in that regard.
Anyway, if you ever want to see a star go full nova, check this film out—Bankhead is funny, bitter, sly, ironic, desperate, and more, helped along by reliable old William Bendix, as well as Hume Cronyn, Mary Anderson, and Walter Slezak in a pivotal role. And I guess we don't have to tell you one of Hitchcock's most famous stories came from this movie, the one about his camera accidentally getting upskirt shots of a pantyless Bankhead, and the question of whether the problem was one for hair, make-up, or wardrobe.
The poster above is a really nice piece of mid-century promo art and we spent a lot of computer time trying to discover who painted it, but to no avail. That wasn't a surprise, though. It's a painted version of the photo-illustration used on the panel length promo you see below, which means it's basically a copy job that numerous artists could have executed. But it's still nice compositionally, with its beautiful blue coloration, bright yellow title, and diagonal arrangement of faces. Lifeboat premiered in the U.S. today in 1944.
The saying goes that no parent should have to bury a child. Somebody didn't hear the saying.
The above Colombia Pictures promo photo of U.S. actress Eloise Hardt first appeared in 1941, when she was still performing in uncredited roles. Her first star turn came in 1947 in the twenty minute short The Luckiest Guy in the World, followed by a role in Homecoming in 1948. But her career in movies never really took off. It was in television that she made her mark, appearing in dozens of series beginning in 1956. Some of those included Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Miami Undercover, and Dr. Kildare. But for all her acting credits, it was for events outside of show business that she seems to be remembered today.
In 1968 Hardt's daughter Marina Habe was kidnapped, murdered, and her body left in the woods off Muholland Drive. Speculation over the years is that one or more members of the Manson Family did the deed. This would have made Habe an early victim, as their famous murder spree didn't occur until 1969, but according to Ed Sanders, author of The Family, members of Manson's circle admitted they knew Habe, and newspaper reports in 1969 suggested the same weapons that killed Habe were used on Sharon Tate. However no arrest was ever made in the murder. As for Hardt, she's still alive and residing in California, which means she's outlived her daughter by nearly fifty years.
I could do this with magic, but I really enjoy cooking.
Elizabeth Montgomery, a rare Hollywood-born actress, is best known for her role as Samantha on the long running 1960s-1970s television series Bewitched. But she actually goes way back. She was born in 1933 and broke into show business in ’53, later appeared in such films as the gangster thriller Johnny Cool, and on television in Alfred Hitchcock Presents and 77 Sunset Strip. This shot of her is from the Japanese showbiz magazine Roadshow and is from around 1968.
James Stewart sees the sights without ever leaving his apartment.
Belgian movie posters are often quite beautiful. We've already shared frameworthy examples for Vanessa and A Thousand and One Nights, as well as a few others, and above you see a promo for Alfred Hitchcock's classic Rear Window. The movie premiered in 1954 and first played in Belgium today in 1955, where it was titled Fenêtre sur cour, which means “window on the courtyard.” The poster was printed by S.P.R.L. Belgique and the artist is Wik, someone who is simultaneously well represented in vintage poster circles while being a total mystery. We plan to dig around, see if we can find more info on this person.
Everyone has a favorite Hitchcock movie. Rear Window is ours. The story, the stars, and the look of the film are all great, and the idea of everyone's lives under a microscope foreshadows the world in which we live in today. Raised shades aren't needed, though—metadata tells corporations and governments more than a glance in a window ever could. In Rear Window, once Jimmy Stewart realizes he is able to spy, he does it even though he knows it's wrong, and once he suspects a crime has been committed, any sense of guilt disappears—instead he feels entitled to intrude. Maybe that's why today's digital spies always claim to be ferreting out crime—because they know most people will accept that as an excuse.
But you don't need us to analyze Rear Window. More qualified writers than us have gone over every frame of the film. Instead we've decided to show you below what Stewart was looking at, thanks to series of promo images we managed to locate. Thus you see, from top to bottom, the rear courtyard which encompasses the story, the newlyweds Rand Harper and Havis Davenport, the murder suspect Raymond Burr, Miss Torso played by Georgine Darcy, Miss Lonely Hearts played by Judith Evelyn, and Grace Kelly with sidekick Thelma Ritter digging for body parts in the garden. If you haven't seen the film, definitely watch it. You'll have fun.
She has a classic case of cold feet.
British actress Janine Gray must really be suffering in this cold. She was born in Bombay, India, and though she left at age five, may have been there just long enough to get used to the tropical weather. Her show business career was short, but she did appear in some of the better television series of the 1960s, including The Avengers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Saint, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The shot above was made to promote her role in the cinematic comedy Quick Before It Melts, which is set in Antarctica. Luckily for Gray it was filmed in California. But that's a place that can feel pretty cold too, when you have no pants. See below. 1964 copyright on these images.
To a hammerer every problem looks like a nail.
In Dorothy Salisbury Davis's A Gentle Murderer a man visits a confessional and reveals murdering someone with a hammer and flees into the night before the priest knows what to do. The dismayed padre decides to search for the mysterious man who burdened him with this terrible knowledge, thus taking on the role of detective in the story, though the police are on hand to conduct a parallel investigation. Naturally, another murder will soon occur if the killer isn't caught. The plot is similar to that of Alfred Hitchcock's 1953 film I Confess, but appeared in hardback two years earlier. However, the Hitchcock movie was actually based on Paul Anthelme Bourde's 1902 play Nos deux consciences, so perhaps Davis was inspired by either the play or Hitchcock's adaptation. Whatever the genesis, the result was a highly regarded mystery, considered by some to be among the best of the era. The cover art on this Bantam paperback edition is by Charles Binger, and dates from 1953.
Hitchcock's epic thriller shows his directorial gifts but misses the mark.
This Italian poster for Io ti salverò, aka Spellbound is wonderful. The movie, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, isn't. The central plot device involves a man who may have blacked out committing a murder. That's a good place for a thriller to start, but the actual psychiatric science is approached clumsily, the love story is overwrought, and the orchestral musical score is omnipresent and overbearing. You have to wonder if composer Miklós Rozsa actually watched the film, because while Spellbound is big, his music is positively galactic. A re-edit with 60% of his output removed would make this one a much smoother ride. It's always a danger to criticize a classic film, we know, but not all classics are created equal. This one lives on Hitchcock's reputation, the overall technical execution, and a groundbreaking dream sequence designed by renowned artist Salvador Dalí. At the end of the dream a faceless man drops a wheel. Maybe it was a steering wheel, because despite all the money and star power poured into Spellbound, somehow it went down a middling road. It premiered in 1945 and reached Italy as Io ti salverò today in 1947.
1960 thriller combined voyeurism, repression, child abuse, and sexual crime long before the public was ready.
Hollywood lore is sprinkled with tales of maligned cinematic masterpieces. British director Michael Powell’s 1960 voyeuristic thriller Peeping Tom is one of them—a film so savagely reviewed that it irreparably damaged what had been an acclaimed directorial career. While Powell should not have suffered so brutal a fate, his film’s rebranding as a work of incandescent genius is also not fully deserved. In the end Peeping Tom is a perfectly decent piece of filmmaking, amazingly forward-looking but also flawed. It deals with a man-child obsessed with filming women at the moment the fear of death appears in their eyes, and our villain does this of course by murdering them, and he manages to kill, film, and keep his subjects in frame at all times by using a spear-like contraption attached to his camera tripod. As you can probably guess, his carefully balanced existence is upset by the arrival of a prospective love interest, and we know from the moment she appears that she’ll be in front of his lens at some point.
In the U.S., Peeping Tom came after Alfred Hitchcock’s similar Psycho, but it Britain it arrived first. Censorship was slipping in British cinema, but to get a sense of how prudish authorities still were, consider the fact that Hitchcock’s movie caused controversy not only for its showermurder and for showing Janet Leigh in her bra and in bed with a man, but for being the first film to show a flushing toilet—an affront to bluenoses though the contents were merely a torn up note. Peeping Tom pushed the envelope farther and did it first, showing the killer Mark Lewis preying on sex workers and nude models, showing nudie reel star Pamela Green sprawled topless on a bed just before her murder, and drawing out the killings to agonizing length as Lewis coaxes the perfect expression of terror from his victims. Powell develops his killer to the extent that the audience must understand him as a human, and uses point-of-view to make the character’s films-within-the-film the equivalent of snuff movies.
The list of technical achievements goes on—Powell deftly manages to make Peeping Tom brutal without spilling a drop of blood, and his visual approach is engrossing. So why isn’t the movie a 10? Well, there are a few glaring script incongruities, some of the acting is below professional level, the killer seems careless for someone that has been at it for a while, and the idea of so obviously disturbed a man—stuttering, mumbling, visibly shying from any form of human contact—being able to attractevan a woman as kind and credulous as Anna Massey just doesn’t ring true. There are men who are projects, and there are men who are lost causes—are we right, girls? That’s what the Pulp Intl. girlfriends say anyway. But Peeping Tom is a film every cinephile should see. The moral objections of contemporary critics seem quaint now—many hated being forced to experience the murders from the killer’s perspective, but the viewer’s loss of choice echoes the killer’s helplessness to control himself, and that may very well be Powell’s best trick.
The Noir City Film Festival ends tonight with a pairing of Peeping Tom with the Michelangelo Antonioni classic Blow-Up, which means here at Pulp Intl. we’ll close the book on the fest and move back into the more diverse subject matter that usually makes up our website. We wanted to use Noir City as an excuse to delve into the film noir catalog and we managed to watch sixteen of the twenty-five films on the schedule—some for the second or third time—and write about twelve of them.
This all made for a quite enjoyable week, with much wine drunk and popcorn noshed (we have a Whirley popcorn maker we had sent over from the States that does a bang-up job), but it was also a bit of work. At this point we doubt we’ll go through all the considerable effort of screening next year’s Noir City slate, but you never know. Next January is a long, long way off—or at least, it should seem that way if you’re living life the way you should. We'll marinate on it and see.
When Hollywood fleshed out source material it often changed the flesh tones too.
Just a bit more on Rear Window today. The movie was based on Cornell Woolrich's story "It Had To Be Murder," which appeared in Dime Detective Magazine of February 1942. As might be expected story and film are substantially different. Lisa Fremont doesn't exist at all and neither does the insurance company nurse Stella. They were both derived from one character—a valet named Sam who does all the hard work while Jeffries watches from his wheelchair. The relationship between these two is warm, but with strong overtones of status and race, with Jeffries at one point showing his pleasure with Sam by saying, "Go and build yourself a great big two-story whisky punch; you’re as close to white as you’ll ever be."
Screenplay choices are always interesting, and we can see the addition of Grace Kelly's Fremont character making sense (though this being Hitchcock, he'd have put a blonde in the movie no matter what, since they represented a fantasy woman for him), but we wish Stella had been left out and Sam kept intact. We understand that changing Jeffries into a rogue photographer from a rich Manhattanite meant taking away his valet, but Sam could have been transformed into the insurance company employee. But that's just our opinion. You can decide for yourself by reading or downloading "It Had To Be Murder" yourself at this link. It's well worth the time.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
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.
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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