Your civilized clothes are just too binding, but check it out—those things you call razors worked wonders on my pits.
This promo image of American actress Gene Tierney was made when she was filming the 1942 South Seas adventure Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake, but based on her wardrobe of revealing tropical foliage, we think the story would have been better if it had been about her. As you can probably guess, Tierney was supposed to be a Pacific Islander, a bit of a stretch, but of course casting lily white girls in those roles was standard practice back then. Actually, it still happens today on occasion. Anyway, we like the look of Tierney in this get-up, so just for good measure, we’ve posted another Son of Fury shot below.
Finnish poster skips the teasing and goes straight to the climax.
A while back we showed you the U.S. promo poster for the classic noir Laura. Today’s version comes from Finland, where the film was released today in 1945. December is a dark, chilly time in Finland, and Laura must have seemed an appropriate film, with its dark, spare story of a police detective who falls in love with a dead woman whose murder he’s investigating. The woman has been shotgunned in the face, and is personified in death by a beautiful portrait hanging over her mantel. The detective is completely baffled by the crime, but then a chance encounter brings everything into focus. If you haven’t seen the film, we recommend it highly. Gene Tierney is at her most icily beautiful, and Dana Andrews does good work as a man in love with a woman who no longer exists. Unfortunately, the poster art actually gives away who the killer is by using a photo-realistic portrayal of the actor brandishing a shotgun. Maybe it’s too small for you to see in this format, so we won’t say more. But what a spoiler for the Finns that the artist—he’s signed the work as R.X.Z.—made that choice, or was told to by the studio. It isn’t as if the actor wouldn’t have been immediately identifiable by them, since he was reasonably famous at the time and in the midst of carving out one of Hollywood’s greatest careers. Anyway, excellent movie. If you want to read more about it visit our original post here.
Before moving back to items from other countries, we thought we’d share a few more pieces related to Germany—this time vintage posters. Below are seven excellent examples of thriller and film noir promo art that appeared in that country from 1932 to 1955. They are, top to bottom, Highway 301, Night and the City, Thunder Road, Notorious twice, because both posters are great, Night of the Hunter and Blonde Venus.
, West Germany
, Highway 301
, Night and the City
, Thunder Road
, Night of the Hunter
, Blonde Venus
, Robert Mitchum
, Marlene Dietrich
, Steve Cochran
, Richard Widmark. Gene Tierney
, Cary Grant
, Shelley Winters
, Ingrid Bergman
, poster art
, film noir
Westerners undone yet again by the inscrutable Chinee.
The Shanghai Gesture is a movie we were excited to see. It’s a Josef von Sternberg directed vehicle adapted from a John Colton play (though neutered due to Hays Code worries), with Gene Tierney starring alongside Victor Mature, Walter Huston, Ona Munson, and Phyllis Brooks. Von Sternberg makes almost fetishistic use of his main asset—the luscious Tierney—by showing her in such extreme close-up you’d almost think it’s her breath fogging the lens, rather than one of the diffusion filters mid-century filmmakers utilized to shoot their female stars. A few minutes after she appears, as she observes the decadent tableau inside a Shanghai casino, she pulls out this line: “The place smells evil, like a place where anything can happen.” We’d suggest that if a place smells evil, something already happened. Blame the nearest person. Or the dog. Anyway, when Tierney makes her observation we understand pretty quickly that it’s going to be about her, a flower of Western purity, and her headlong descent into Oriental flooziedom.
All well and good, but the filmmakers fall prey to the type of easy characterizations that the best movies of the period were learning to avoid. When you observe, for example, the mostly respectful depiction of a character like Sam in 1942’s Casablanca, it becomes difficult not to cringe at such excesses here as Ona Munson's Chinese character MotherGin Sling entering rooms to the sound of a gong, or Walter Huston’s Sir Guy Charteris—a supposed old hand in Asia—querying Mike Mazurky with, “You speakee Chinee? Cantonee? You breakee window?” Did Westerners in China back then really say things like that? We’re dying to know. Mazurky gets the last line in the film, tossing off a smug echo of one of Huston’s earlier questions, and at that moment he’s a sort of stand-in for all Shanghai, which by now we know is a place where white people meet their ruin, but still—“You speakee Chinee?” The unintentional humor of such moments undermines the believability of the entire enterprise.
Another problem for us is that Victor Mature comes across as singularly unappealing. He’s not supposed to be a nice guy, but depriving him of any shred of charm makes it hard to believe Tierney would desire him. In any case, the script requires this and other indignities of poor Gene, and soon her fall from grace is so complete she even loses her mellifluous upper class accent and starts braying like a donkey. Yes, there’s some good here. Tierney is spellbindingly beautiful (one reason so many people thinkthis movie is better than it really is, we suspect). Some of the interiors are excellent, especially Mother Gin Sling’s baroque circular casino. A couple of the set pieces are striking, such as when young women are hoisted in baskets above a crowd of men clambering to buy them for their flower boats—i.e., floating brothels. And Huston is solid in his portrayal of Charteris. But all in all, The Shanghai Gesture is strictly so-so.
Incidentally, the movie is widely labeled a film noir, but it really isn’t. Yes, it can be difficult to say definitively whether a film fits into a certain category because “genre” is a nebulous concept to begin with, but we submit that this one is well off the mark, no more a noir than is The Lost Weekend, or for that matter Casablanca. If we’d known in advance it was a run-of-the-mill melodrama—yes, an exotic one, but also clunky and unengaging—we would not have expected the cutting cynicism and visual wit that characterize so many film noirs. If you go into it expecting something more along the lines of a B-picture, then The Shanghai Gesture might entertain. But whatever you expect, don’t think you're goingto see von Sternberg or Tierney doing their best work. At top you see the original American promo poster, and below that some production photos. The Shanghai Gesture premiered in New York City on Christmas 1941, and went into national release today in 1942.
, The Shanghai Gesture
, Josef von Sternberg
, Gene Tierney
, Victor Mature
, John Colton
, Walter Huston
, Ona Munson
, Phyllis Brooks
, poster art
, movie review
Gene Tierney was born with everything, but life took much of it away.
Her name was Gene Tierney and she lived a fairytale existence before ever becoming a movie star. Her parents and grandparents were wealthy. She attended the finest schools on the East Coast and was sent to finishing school in Switzerland. She decided she wanted a career in theater and her father formed a corporation to promote her ambitions. Even in her earliest, smallest stage roles, critics were dazzled by her beauty. Hollywood was a natural next step, and she took it by signing with Twentieth Century Fox and appearing in 1941’s Hudson Bay. The roles and good reviews kept coming, and soon she starred in Otto Preminger’s 1944 noir Laura, about a police detective who falls in love with the portrait of a dead woman. Or at least he thinks she’s dead. Tierney was perfect in the title role—that of a woman more beautiful yet more complicated than her alluring painted image. Laura was a hit and Tierney became a huge star.
But unbeknownst to most, Tierney’s fairytale existence had already taken a dark turn. She had married renowned designer Oleg Cassini in 1941 and by 1943 was pregnant. But the baby girl was born brain damaged because, while pregnant, Tierney had somehow contracted rubella, a form of measles transmitted through fluid emission, the same way flu can be passed. Tierney was consumed by anger and guilt over her daughter’s condition, but her career was in full swing and she managed to hide her anguish as the roles continued—A Bell for Adano and Leave Her to Heaven in 1945, Dragonwyck and The Razor’s Edge in 1946, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir in 1947. At some point, at some public function or other, Tierney randomly encountered a woman who said they had actuallymet before, during one of Tierney’s appearances at the Hollywood Canteen. In fact, the woman had been in the Marines at the time and had wanted to meet Tierney so badly she had broken a quarantine to do so. It took another chance meeting with the same woman before Tierney put two and two together: “A year later, I met the same girl again on the tennis courts at a friend’s home in Hollywood. She reminded me of the night she had broken quarantine. 'I got the German measles,' she said. 'Did you get them, too?'" Tierney said that after the woman had recounted her story, she just stared at her silently, then turned and walked away. She wrote in her autobiography, “After that I didn’t care whether ever again I was anyone’s favorite actress.”
The revelation changed Tierney. By 1950 she was suffering from depression and bi-polar disorder, yet managed a good performance in another classic noir, Jules Dassin’s dazzling Night and the City. But while her reviews were still good, her marriage to Cassini was failing. They divorced in 1952. Tierney’s depression persisted and doctors treated her with electroshocks—thirty-two sessions that completely erased portions of her memory. Her fairytale life was gone. Meanwhile she was enduring a series of failed romances that led to even more depression. Her career sputtered and in 1955 she stopped acting. When she felt ready for a comeback in the early sixties, her star had faded. After several more roles, she settled into retirement in Texas and finally died of emphysema today in 1991. But Tierney is one of the most fondly remembered stars of Hollywood’s golden age, and one of the few who got to play a role that was so perfectly a metaphor for her life. Like the lovestruck detective in Laura, the public fell for a portrait that was beautiful but ultimately false. As Tierney’s cool-as-ice Laura Hunt said, “To him, I, like everything else, am only half real. The other half exists only in his own mind.”
, Twentieth Century Fox
, A Bell for Adano
, Leave Her to Heaven
, The Razor’s Edge
, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
, Leave It to Heaven
, Night and the City
, Gene Tierney
, Oleg Cassini
, Dana Andrews
, Otto Preminger
, Jules Dassin
, sex symbol
Ever get the feeling you’re being watched?
Directed initially by Rouben Mamoulian and finished by the great Otto Preminger, this incomparable film noir featuring the stunning Gene Tierney had a can’t-miss premise—a detective falls in love with a woman whose murder he is investigating. Though the character of Laura Hunt is present only in the form of a portrait hanging above a fireplace, the dead woman soon dominates detective Dana Andrews’ thoughts. But nothing is as it seems, of course. Like most great noirs, Laura’s premise has been reused and mashed-up, most notably in 1981’s Sharky’s Machine, but the original remains the best. Above you see the Spanish one sheet, with a depiction of Ms. Tierney that doesn’t begin to do her justice even though it was based closely on a Tierney photograph used on the American one sheet. Maybe, just like Dana Andrews, the artist was too haunted to do his best work. Nothing will make you nervous quite like being stared at. Laura gazed out from movie screens for the first time in 1944, and finally made it to Spain today, in 1946.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1914—RMS Empress Sinks
Canadian Pacific Steamships' 570 foot ocean liner Empress of Ireland is struck amidships by a Norwegian coal freighter and sinks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the loss of 1,024 lives. Submerged in 130 feet of water, the ship is so easily accessible to treasure hunters who removed valuables and bodies from the wreck that the Canadian government finally passes a law in 1998 restricting access.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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