It’s possible to have too many Bonds.
1967’s Casino Royale wasn’t a global Christmas movie in the sense that today’s films are, however it did premiere Christmas week in ten European countries, as well as today in Japan. The movie wasn’t good. Basic idea: Sean Connery is an imposter, so the real James Bond in the form of David Niven is coaxed out of retirement, and he comes up with a plan to confuse his arch enemies SMERSH by renaming all British agents—male and female—James Bond. Time’s review of Casino Royale was headlined “Keystone Cop Out,” and The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther was just as scathing, noting that “since it’s based more on slapstick than wit, with Bond cliché piled upon cliché, it tends to crumble and sprawl.”
But one thing about holiday blockbusters—past and present—is that they’re expensively promoted. The many posters produced to sell Casino Royale were top notch. A U.S. poster painted by the legendary Robert McGinnis remains one of his most iconic pieces, but we also like these Italian quattro foglio promos painted by the extensively and expensively collected Giorgio Olivetti. We saw a set of these asking $8,500 at an auction site. By contrast, below are several U.S. promos, not paintings but photo-illustrations, on which the film’s secondary players get starring roles. They aren’t nearly as collectible as the movie’s paintings, but they’re pretty, so we’re sharing them as well.
Like an Oreo cookie, the best part of Highway 301 is the stuff in the middle.
Though we can’t find much online about the making of the 1950 b-budget film noir Highway 301, we have a suspicion what happened during its production. The studio holding the purse strings, Warner Bros., had a look at the rough cut and said there’s no way we’re putting out a movie this intense. How intense is it? Influential New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it “a straight exercise in low sadism.” So what does a studio do when it has on its hands a movie it thinks is likely to bad vibe audiences right out of the cinema? Simple—tell the audiences before the movie starts how it’s going to end. Get three sitting state governors—W. Kerr Scott of North Carolina, John S. Battle of Virginia, and William P. Lane, Jr. of Maryland—to announce in a prologue that crime does not pay, and that every member of the Tri-State Gang depicted in the movie ended up dead, except for one, who ended up in prison. Was Warner Bros. really responsible for such a blatant mutilation of Highway 301? It’s a very good bet, simply because a screenwriter can’t write a script that counts on the participation of three state governors. But for Jack Warner, well, all it would have taken was a phone call to each.
If you pretend the hamfisted prologue never happened, what you end up watching is one of the most underrated and entertaining noirs ever filmed. There are two robberies, a few shootouts, and other action pieces, but the intensity in this film is supplied by its unflinching exploration of the vagaries of fate. Taking an elevator rather than the stairs, choosing to hide rather than run, heading for the back exit rather than the front—it’s decisions such as that determine the fortunes and misfortunes of the characters, and which gnaw at the nerves of an audience that knows which choice is right but can only watch events unfold. At the center of it all is Steve Cochran as the gang’s murderous leader, a guy who solves every problem with a gun. The supporting cast includes Virginia Grey, Gaby Andre, and Robert Webber, and all are good in their roles.
While we know the Tri-State Gang will lose in the end, there’s still plenty of suspense supplied by Gaby Andre’s predicament—she knows too much and the only reason she’s still alive is because Cochran thinks she’s beautiful. But the spell will soon wear off and at that point she’ll be just another dead witness—unless she can escape. Fate continues to intervene. Will it intercede on her behalf? Or against? We know not to anticipate her survival based on her status as the protagonist female. The body count has already told us movie convention is no refuge. That’s the genius of Highway 301—there’s no respite from tension. Every sigh of relief catches in the throat as peril mounts yet again.
Writer/director Andrew L. Stone deserves a lot of credit for putting this together. He was an experienced hand at this point, but never before had he created something so innovative. Highway 301 ends on a down note with more moralizing, but sandwiched in between is a highly recommendable drama. Flawed, yes, but only due to the intrusion of front office types, we suspect. A re-release without the moral parentheses and intermittent narration would elevate this to classic status. The poster at top is classic in its own right. It was painted by someone who signed it Aziz, and the Arabic script in the lower right corner confirms it was made for release in the Middle East or North Africa, most likely Egypt, but don’t quote us on that.
Oooh, she’s a little Dunaway…
This rare promo shot of American actress Faye Dunaway was made when she was starring in Bonnie and Clyde, which was a film so polarizing that one of the most respected critics in America—the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther—launched a campaign against the values he felt the movie represented. But American filmgoers loved Bonnie and Clyde, and Crowther’s scathingly negative review exposed him as out of touch with the zeitgeist and especially with the maverick film directors coming out of Hollywood. It was 1967, and everything was changing. The Times fired Crowther and gave his job to Pauline Kael. Bonnie and Clyde became a worldwide hit and cinematic landmark. And Faye Dunaway became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
Marisa Allasio’s bikini created unforeseen fallout—of the judicial kind.
Here’s a new tabloid in our collection—Pic, which like Whisper and a few other publications evolved from a pin-up magazine into a scandal sheet during the 1950s. The cover star on this November 1958 issue is Marisa Allasio, and the photo is one that originally appeared in the Italian magazine Il Borghesi and landed the publishers in court on obscenity charges. As anyone who has ever been to a beach can attest, there is a big difference between almost falling out of a bikini and actually doing it, and that difference is where all the fun lies. But the shot was nonetheless deemed too sexual by Italy’s moral watchdogs, and all the newsstand copies of Il Borghese were confiscated. In the end, the magazine was able to prove that the image was a promo still from Allasio’s forgettable 1956 film Poveri ma belli, aka Poor but Beautiful. Since Il Borgese was not responsible for the image, charges against the magazine were dropped. If you’d like to read a scathing contemporary review of the film, we found one by Bosley Crowther at the New York Times, and just because it’s Saturday, we have the almost-obscene bikini photo below, in its original unreversed state. We’ll have more from Pic later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1986—Otto Preminger Dies
Austro–Hungarian film director Otto Preminger, who directed such eternal classics as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder
, Carmen Jones
, The Man with the Golden Arm
, and Stalag 17
, and for his efforts earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, dies in New York City, aged 80, from cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
1998—James Earl Ray Dies
The convicted assassin of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., petty criminal James Earl Ray, dies in prison of hepatitis aged 70, protesting his innocence as he had for decades. Members of the King family who supported Ray's fight to clear his name believed the U.S. Government had been involved in Dr. King's killing, but with Ray's death such questions became moot.
1912—Pravda Is Founded
The newspaper Pravda, or Truth, known as the voice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, begins publication in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the country's leading newspapers until 1991, when it is closed down by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin. A number of other Pravdas appear afterward, including an internet site and a tabloid.
1983—Hitler's Diaries Found
The German magazine Der Stern claims that Adolf Hitler's diaries had been found in wreckage in East Germany. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a volume about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. But the diaries are subsequently revealed to be fakes written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger. Both he and Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann go to trial in 1985 and are each sentenced to 42 months in prison.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
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