Why did Lancaster cross the mob? To get to DeCarlo's side.
This is a beautiful poster for Doppio Gioco, better known as the U.S. film noir Criss Cross, with Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo. We were unable to determine who painted the piece, but it's a bang-up job. As for the movie, Burt Lancaster comes up with one of the classic terrible ideas in film noir history, and that's really saying something, because the genre practically hinges on cockamamie schemes. We talk about it in our brief write-up of the film here. Doppio Gioco opened In Italy today in 1949.
In a place like Atlantic City there's always one more chance.
The poster you see above was painted by the Spanish artist Francisco Fernandez Zarza-Pérez, who signed his work as Jano. As you can see, it was to promote Louis Malle's drama Atlantic City, U.S.A. Most sites call the film just Atlantic City, but we're going with what the opening credits called it. Though the movie starred U.S. performers and tends to be thought of as an American effort, it was French produced and premiered all over Europe in 1980 before reaching the States in 1981. It opened in Spain today in 1980 and tells the story of a sixty-something minor crook who finds himself involved with twenty-something hustlers and their sale of stolen drugs. Circumstances place both the party favors and the profits in his hands, and he suddenly has a chance to be the big time mobster he never was.
Not only did Atlantic City, U.S.A. win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, it's one of the few movies to be nominated for all five major Academy Awards—Best Actor (Burt Lancaster), Best Actress (Susan Sarandon), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay. With a résumé like that we don't have to tell you the movie is good. Watch it. You'll like it. The woman on the poster, by the way, looks nothing like Susan Sarandon, but it was early in Sarandon's career, and we suspect Jano wasn't too invested in getting her likeness correct. It was within his capability, certainly—his Lancaster looks great. We don't know why he got Sarandon wrong. Considering how famous she eventually became, we have a feeling he wished he'd done better.
Bank heist goes every which way except the right way.
This year's Noir City Film Festival opens with the 1949 heist drama Criss Cross. Based on a bestselling novel of the same name by Don Tracy, it's the story of man played by Burt Lancaster who returns to Los Angeles after some years away to find that his ex-wife Yvonne De Carlo has hooked up with a local gangster. The exes rekindle their flame, but when it looks as if the gangster has caught them in the act Lancaster spontaneously cooks up a story about how he was putting together a plan to rob the armored car service for which he works.
Lancaster's robbery idea is not only designed to deflect the gangster's suspicion away from the affair, but to also fund the future he envisions with De Carlo when she and him run away. This scheme, which strains credulity, is probably one of the most obviously terrible ideas in the long, celebrated history of doomed ideas in film noir, but with good direction by Robert Siodmak, who had worked with Lancaster on The Killers, and good acting by all involved, the film concludes on the positive side of the effectiveness ledger. Numerous excellent Los Angeles exteriors, including at Union Station and on now mostly leveled Bunker Hill, make this noir an important time capsule as well, an aspect that increases its appeal. And an excellent musical number by Esy Morales & His Rhumba Band gives the proceedings a further boost. All in all, Criss Cross is a winner.
God, I love these pants. Fashion may be transitory, but these will never go out of style.
Here's an interesting cover for Romana Stewart's Desert Town showing that confidence is the key to fashion. You gotta wear it like you mean it. Even if it's jodhpurs. The story here is a coming of age tale about a seventeen-year-old girl pursuing an older man, with the pursuit complicated by her eerie resemblance to the man's dead wife, the fact that her mother is basically the queenpin of the town, and the fact that the man is a hustler and the story behind his wife's death may not be as simple as it seems. There's even more to it—a fierce rival for the man's attention, crooked cops, a dangerous gangster, an alcoholic wife, and other curious smalltown characters. The story was adapted for cinema in 1947 as Desert Fury, starring Burt Lancaster, John Hodiak, Lizabeth Scott, and Mary Astor. The cover artist on this 1948 Pocket Books edition is Roswell Keller, whose work was last seen on the front of Slay the Loose Ladies, a paperback we included in our alpha males collection.
From Here to Oscar night.
American actor Burt Lancaster posed for the promo photo you see above when he was filming the World War II drama From Here to Eternity in the Hawaiian Islands in 1953. The movie, based on James Jones' novel, was one of the highest grossing productions of the 1950s, and film noir vet Lancaster in the lead as Sergeant Warden was a prime reason why. The movie also starred Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, and Ernest Borgnine, making for a supremely talented cast. In the end From Here to Eternity scored thirteen Academy Award nominations and won eight, including Best Picture.
Blame it on the Gardner.
Above, a poster for Robert Siodmak’s Oscar nominated film noir The Killers. Adapted from a short story by Ernest Hemingway about an ex-boxer who meekly accepts his own murder for reasons that only become clear after a detailed investigation by an insurance adjuster, this was the film that gave us the great Burt Lancaster. Why did he let himself be murdered? Well, Ava Gardner had something to do with it. You can see the unusual French poster here, and the Swedish poster here. The Killers opened in the U.S. today in 1946.
If Ava I see your face again.
Above is an unusual one-sheet for Robert Siodmak’s 1946 film noir Les Tueurs, aka The Killers, with Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. You may remember we showed you the colorful Swedish poster last year. This rather hazy French effort is unusual because it features a photo of one of the stars, which is a promotional technique that wouldn’t become popular until decades later, when retouched (later digitally tweaked) photography replaced handpainted images, forever to the detriment of the art world. We’ve talked about this before, and we still have the same question. Namely, what is it inside of us that made us divorce art from commerce? We’ve embraced the soulless in every form of promotional art from movie posters to book covers to billboards. Is it simply about money? Does capitalism drive us inexorably toward an artless pursuit of profit? We have our theories, but what do you think? Or is this a little too much to be dumping on you on a spring Saturday? Right, we can take a hint. Les Tueurs premiered in Paris today in 1947.
Lust for a dame brings another man to an unfortunate end.
Here’s a colorful Swedish one sheet for The Killers, which is considered one of the most important noirs. Inspired by an Ernest Hemingway short story, and helmed by director Robert Siodmak, the movie opens with an unresisting Burt Lancaster being snuffed by two hit men, then follows an insurance investigator as he tries to figure out what possibly could have happened in this man’s life that would make him virtually offer himself to his murderers. All roads lead—as all roads must—to the femme fatale. In this case it’s the magical Ava Gardner, in her first starring role as the hard-as-nails Kitty Collins. The art here effectively tells the story of the film in a snapshot—we see Burt beset by his two killers as Ms. Gardner seems to burn in his breast. That pretty much sums it up. The film was a smash hit, and it remains a must-see. It first played in Stockholm today, in 1947.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
1995—Mickey Mantle Dies
New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle dies of complications from cancer, after receiving a liver transplant. He was one of the greatest baseball players ever, but he was also an alcoholic and played drunk, hungover, and unprepared. He once said about himself, "Sometimes I think if I had the same body and the same natural ability and someone else's brain, who knows how good a player I might have been."
1943—Philadelphia Experiment Allegedly Takes Place
The U.S. government is believed by some to have attempted to create a cloak of invisibility around the Navy ship USS Eldridge. The top secret event is known as the Philadelphia Experiment and, according to believers, ultimately leads to the accidental teleportation of an entire vessel.
1953—Soviets Detonate Deliverable Nuke
The Soviet Union detonates
a nuclear weapon codenamed Reaktivnyi Dvigatel Stalina, aka Stalin's Jet Engine. In the U.S. the bomb is codenamed Joe 4. It is a small yield fission bomb rather than a multi-stage fusion weapon, but it makes up for its relative weakness by being fully deployable, meaning it can be dropped from a bomber.
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