Nice guys finish last—until they're pushed too far.
The 1945 film noir Scarlet Street is one of the bleaker offerings from a generally bleak genre. Edward G. Robinson plays an aspiring painter in a loveless marriage whose need makes him a perfect mark for a pair of hustlers, played by Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, who shake him down for money, a free apartment, and even his recognition as an artist. The main treat here is seeing tough guy Robinson play a mild-mannered everyman, the sort of terminal pushover he also portrayed to great effect in the noir The Woman in the Window. The thing is, some people can only take so much abuse.
What was it Shakespeare wrote about rough winds and May?
Above is a publicity photo of American singer/actor/comedian Sammy Davis, Jr. with his Swedish bride, actress May Britt. The shot dates from today in 1960, and as you might guess, that was a very bad time for mixed couples. Sammy had for years been making tabloid headlines for dating white women ranging from Tinseltown icon Kim Novak to Canadian singer Joan Stuart, but when he announced plans to marry Britt, a chunk of the general public lost its collective mind. He faced racist banners and chants in London, received rafts of hate mail, and was confronted in Los Angeles with the bizarre spectacle of three men marching outside the Huntington Hartford Theater in nazi regalia. Even two admirers, John and Robert Kennedy, allegedly asked Frank Sinatra to tell Davis to delay the wedding until after the 1960 presidential election.
Professionally, Britt had to choose between her career and Davis, because it was quite clear that she would never be hired in Hollywood if she married him. Some websites suggest that she lost little because she was a minor talent at best, but she had appeared in over a dozen films and had made the cover of Life magazine twice before even meeting Sammy, so her expectations of a strong run in Hollywood were in no way delusional. Obviously, she chose love over career, and wed Davis at his home in the Hollywood Hills. Some of the guests at the reception included Peter Lawford, Diana Dors, Barbara Rush, Janet Leigh, Leo Durocher, Shirley MacLaine, Milton Berle, and Edward G. Robinson, Jr. The marriage lasted eight years—not long in the real world perhaps, but an eternity by Hollywood standards.
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 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. Thirteen more posters below.
Edward G. Robinson learns to be thankful for what he’s got.
Above is a Swedish promo poster for Kvinnan i fönstret , better known as The Woman in the Window, from German expressionist master Fritz Lang. Anything from the director who gave us Metropolis is must-see, however, we have to warn you that the finale to this one may come as a let-down, or more accurately a cop-out. But don’t blame Lang—blame the censors of the day, who wouldn’t let him use the ending from the source material, J. H. Wallis’s novel Once Off Guard. If judged in the forgiving frame of mind that the ending shouldn’t be held against it, The Woman in the Window can’t be considered anything but a top-notch effort. Basically, it’s worth it just to see Edward G. Robinson in the lead as a stuffy college professor who wishes for more excitement in his life. He learns the hard lesson—thanks to femme fatale Joan Bennett—that he isn’t built for adventure. So the film is a cautionary tale. It warns middle-aged men that stable lives may be boring, but hot young women lead to directly to trouble, terror and tragedy (best case scenario: after a lot of screamingly good sex). The Woman in the Window opened in Sweden today in 1947.
Everything’s coming up aces.
Above is a promo poster from the former Yugoslavia for 1965’s The Cincinnati Kid, with Steve McQueen and Ann-Margret. The movie is actually set not in Cincinnati, but in depression-era New Orleans, with McQueen playing an up and coming poker player whose goal is to be recognized as the best in the world. But one man stands in his way—invincible poker master Lancey Howard, played by Edward G. Robinson. It’s The Hustler with cards. Highly recommended.
It's not easy eating Green.
When we wrote in our Planet of the Apes posting that Charlton Heston was capable of creating compelling film moments, his sci-fi mystery Soylent Green was the other film we had in mind. You see the French promo art above, and you’ll notice this is another film that played at the Avoriaz Film Festival. The first screening was today in 1973, and though it was well-received, the film lost the Grand Prize to Steven Spielberg’s made-for-television thriller Duel. Soylent Green’s vision of the future may look a little retro now, but its depiction of smart business as bad morals remains relevant. It’s also notable for being the last screen appearance of the legendary Edward G. Robinson, who died of cancer just three weeks after shooting ended. We recommend you check this one out. At the very least, it’ll make you think twice next time you’re in a crowd and someone starts making those mooing sounds.
Looking at things from a Q perspective.
We have another issue of On the Q.T. today. The cover subject, Beverly Aadland, was a teenaged actress who earned notoriety for being Errol Flynn’s last lover. Flynn always preferred young girls—oftentimes too young, depending on whom you believe. When he wrote his disappointingly bland (at least to us) autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways, the dedication read: To a small companion. We would have guessed Flynn meant his cock, since it got him into so much trouble during his life, but more informed sources than us say the companion he meant was Beverly Aadland. We stand corrected, and she stands explained for those who didn’t know who she was.
Moving on, On the Q.T. also mentions a person named Giesler. This would be Jerry Giesler, who is little known now, but was once Tinseltown’s lawyer-to-the-stars. To say he possessed secrets is an understatement considering he represented the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Edward G. Robinson, Marilyn Monroe, Shelley Winters, Lili St. Cyr, Busby Berkeley (from triple manslaughter charges), Zsa Zsa Gabor, Errol Flynn (again, with Flynn), and too many more to name. But of all his exploits, the most famous was his sensational defense of fourteen year-old Cheryl Crane from murder charges.
It’s one of the most lurid stories in Hollywood history. Crane was the daughter of megastar Lana Turner, and had endured many difficulties early in life, including alleged molestation and rape by Turner’s fourth husband, actor Lex Barker. Turner had an abusive situation of her own with mob enforcer Johnny Stompanato, a violent man who slapped her around but clung onto her for dear life no matter how hard she tried to dump him. On April 4, 1958, Cheryl Crane stabbed Stompanato to death. She claimed the mobster was beating her mother and she had no choice but to attack him. Not to be morbid, but oh to have been a fly on the wall as this fourteen year-old girl went Benihana on a feared mobster. What an astounding scene that must have been, especially to Stompanato, who you see in peaceful repose above. Anyway, Cheryl Crane said the stabbing was done in her mother's defense, and Jerry Giesler convinced a jury she was right.
Already famous enough to command what were at the time enormous retainers, Giesler's reputation was forever sealed after the Crane trial. He was simply the best, the go-to attorney for a celeb in a town that was always boiling with trouble. As a result of Giesler's exploits, Hollywood coined a catchphrase, a collection of magic words believed to possess the power to solve even the toughest problems. The phrase? "Get me Giesler."
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1947—Heyerdahl Embarks on Kon-Tiki
Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and his five man crew set out from Peru on a giant balsa wood raft called the Kon-Tiki in order to prove that Peruvian natives could have settled Polynesia. After a 101 day, 4,300 mile (8,000 km) journey, Kon-Tiki smashes into the reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on August 7, 1947, thus demonstrating that it is possible for a primitive craft to survive a Pacific crossing.
1989—Soviets Acknowledge Chernobyl Accident
After two days of rumors and denials the Soviet Union admits there was an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Reactor number four had suffered a meltdown, sending a plume of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area. Today the abandoned radioactive area surrounding Chernobyl is rife with local wildlife and has been converted into a wildlife sanctuary, one of the largest in Europe.
1945—Mussolini Is Arrested
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, his mistress Clara Petacci, and fifteen supporters are arrested by Italian partisans in Dongo, Italy while attempting to escape the region in the wake of the collapse of Mussolini's fascist government. The next day, Mussolini and his mistress are both executed, along with most of the members of their group. Their bodies are then trucked to Milan where they are hung upside down on meathooks from the roof of a gas station, then spat upon and stoned until they are unrecognizable.
1933—The Gestapo Is Formed
The Geheime Staatspolizei, aka Gestapo, the official secret police force of Nazi Germany, is established. It begins under the administration of SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police, but by 1939 is administered by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or Reich Main Security Office, and is a feared entity in every corner of Germany and beyond.
1937—Guernica Is Bombed
In Spain during the Spanish Civil War, the Basque town of Guernica is bombed by the German Luftwaffe, resulting in widespread destruction and casualties. The Basque government reports 1,654 people killed, while later research suggests far fewer deaths, but regardless, Guernica is viewed as an example of terror bombing and other countries learn that Nazi Germany is committed to that tactic. The bombing also becomes inspiration for Pablo Picasso, resulting in a protest painting that is not only his most famous work, but one the most important pieces of art ever produced.
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