Gringo adventurer goes down South American rabbit hole looking for Inca treasure.
Pulp fiction, genre fiction, crime fiction—call it what you want. Basically, none of it will ever win a Pulitzer Prize, but it can be mighty enjoyable when done just right. Plunder of the Sun is faster than fast pulp-style fiction from To Catch a Thief author David Dodge. The rough and tumble protagonist Al Colby tries to unravel the secret of an Inca quipa—an ancient numero-linguistic recording device—which may tell the location of an impossibly huge hoard of gold. The tale speeds from Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru and into the high Andes by boat, train, and tram to a climax on the highest lake in the world.
This is a confident yarn from an author who traveled widely in the countries portrayed, and his tale avoids the cultural judgments you often find in these types of novels. His descriptions of cities, hotels, and transport are unflattering but accurate, yet his treatment of the Peruvian and Chilean villains has no whiff of condescension. They're just the villains, nothing more—smart, tough, deadly, and motivated. The book's only flaw is its late turn toward romantic matchmaking. Still, it was a very good read. It became a movie of the same name in 1953, placed in a new setting, with Glenn Ford and Diana Lynn. The art on this 1951 Dell paperback is by Robert Stanley, and as a bonus it comes in a collectible mapback edition.
Must be the tropical weather that brings out the beast in them.
Affair in Trinidad, which went into general release in the U.S. today in 1952, brought Gilda co-stars Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford together for another go round as star crossed lovers in a foreign land. Hayworth is a nightclub singer, and Ford is the brother of her dead husband, who's first thought to be a suicide, then suspected to have been murdered. There's no mystery who's responsible—it's the oily one percenter who wants Hayworth for himself. Ford wants this fella to hang from Trinidad's highest coconut palm, but Hayworth stands in his way for reasons you'll have to watch the movie to discover.
Overall, as an attempt to rekindle that ole Gilda magic, Affair in Trinidad fails, mainly because Ford is not as appealing as in the former movie. But the problem could lie with us—we don't buy anger, jealousy, and brutal face slaps as aphrodisiacs. We know, we know—things were different in 1952. But puhleeeze—that different? Just because she was kind of nice to him, it means he owns her? We just can't get behind slappy Glenn and his primitive behavior. Affair in Trinidad isn't bad—it just isn't good, exactly. But at least Hayworth works some singing and dancing magic. It isn't as fun as watching her deliver a swift kick to the nutsack would have been, but at least she makes the best of her situation.
Wow, that's one slappable babe. Appearing nightly? I better come back and see if I can slap her.
Slow motion replay. Slaaaaaaaap!
Christ, does my face hurt. You must really love me.
I can slap you too. Lemme slap you too. Look, my hand is ready to slap. I'll slap so good you won't believe how good I slap. I do the best slaps.
I just can't get that slap out of my head. Focus, girl! Spying to do.
I usually slap, but you I'll choke. Because I dig you too, in a different way.
A one, a two, a one, two, three, four: Though my face is swollen I'm so thrilled my man's controllin' in the moooooor-nin!
Every time he hurts me I just have to swirl my skirts because he waaaaarned me!
It ain't a man's fault he hits me! I shouldn't... re-sist!
It's just a man being manly! He can't... de-sist!
Ladies let me warn you too! These guys... are... rude!
But hey, it's the 1950s! There's nothing... I can... do!*
*Please don't send us any obtuse e-mails. We obviously abhor violence against women.
Some women are trouble. But some trouble is worth it.
Above you see a poster for the game changing film noir Gilda, which opened today in 1946 with Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in the starring roles as a casino owner's wife and a gambling drifter. This promo is different from the three we showed you some years back, so we thought we'd upload it just to further bolster our visual documentation of this classic. The piece was painted by the storied Russian born artist Boris Grinsson, who we've discussed only briefly but will certainly get back to. As for Gilda, it's been exhaustively covered by virtually every film writer far and wide, so we've got nothing to add. Watch it.
Glenn Ford meddles in the governance of a sovereign nation. Why? Because he can.
Do you think RKO Pictures actually went to Honduras to film Appointment in Honduras? Of course not. The movie, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1953, was mostly filmed at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Too bad. We were looking forward to seeing what Honduras looked like before it became the disaster we personally know so well, a place of perpetual instability that at times has owned the highest murder rate in the world. We used to go there often, and we were there during one of its periodic political upheavals. Airports closed, bus companies shut, smoke and chaos filled the streets. We were stuck there for a week, but it wasn't all bad. We left San Pedro Sula, drove to the coast, then hopped a ferry—still operating thankfully—to Roatán. If you have to be trapped in a paralyzed country, choose one of its islands. Ah... memories.
Was all of the above a digression? Well, let's come back to it. In Appointment in Honduras Glenn Ford plays a shady character trying to make his way upcountry for reasons unknown. He enlists the aid of a quartet of killers, and kidnaps a married couple to use as hostages. He shoots a few people, and shows no remorse when his henchmen do the same. Yet he's the good guy in this. Eventually we learn that he's bringing money into the country to give to counter-revolutionaries intent on restoring a deposed president to power. There's no discussion of whether he has the right to do this, nor does he have a plan to deal with the chaos that might result from causing widespread violence. He seems to think everything will work out fine, and he can go back to his ranch when all is done. Sound familiar?
Thus we come full circle to our intro, not a digression at all, but a description of the real world result of the type of mercenary entitlement depicted by the movie. Director Jacques Tourneur, who had done so much better with previous efforts like Out of the Past and Cat People, is way too good for this flat adventure tale. Ford is fine, as always, but Ann Sheridan—one of our favorite golden actresses—is just lost, stuck in a character whose motivations are never believable, or for that matter palatable. But even though Appointment in Honduras isn't a good movie, it's an excellent example of mild mid-century cultural propaganda, with its icy disregard for the lives and desires of dark foreigners. Emotions stripped bare, is what the poster proclaims. Motivations stripped bare might be more accurate.
Someone in the sleeping compartment isn't going to wake up.
Film noir teaches us that anyone can get in too deep, even a railroad engineer. In Human Desire, Fritz Lang's retelling of Emile Zola's 1890 novel La Bête humaine, Glenn Ford finds himself trapped between lust for Gloria Grahame and reluctance to kill to have her. He's already helped her cover up another killing and gotten in the middle of blackmail plot, but every man has his limits. This is flawed but canonical noir, with a cocky Ford, a quirky Grahame, a brutish Broderick Crawford, and Kathleen Case playing the loyal gal pal, who for our money is much more alluring than Grahame. Ford figures that out too, eventually. Too bad his realization is sandwiched between two murders on his train. Human Desire premiered today in 1954.
No matter how far she ran dissatisfaction followed close behind.
This gold colored June 1963 cover for Confidential magazine is entirely given over to actress Barbara Payton, whose self-penned hard-luck story appears inside and details her life troubles. The tale is well known and is one we’ve touched upon before—early marriage and early motherhood, followed by stardom, romances, and riches, followed by booze, drugs, divorces and crime. Confidential being Confidential, the editors neglect to mention that the story here is not an exclusive, but rather is excerpted from I Am Not Ashamed, Payton’s painfully revealing autobiography.
I Am Not Ashamed did not sell especially well, and was pretty much forgotten a few years after its release. But it reappeared by chance two decades later when Jack Nicholson famously lent a rare copy to Jessica Lange to help her prepare for her femme fatale role in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Today the book is widely available. Just a few seconds reading Payton’s words conjures the suspicion she had a ghostwriter, and indeed, it was the king of lowbrow literature Leo Guild who gave shape to the prose, which reads like gutter level sleaze fiction.
For example: “He hated what I had been [but] loved me for what I was. He tortured himself. Every part of my body reminded him of another man.” And this bit: “I had a body when I was a young kid that raisedtemperatures wherever I went. Today I have three long knife wounds on my solid frame. One extends from my buttocks down my thigh and needed I don’t remember how many stitches.” Payton’s anecdotes are cringe worthy, but they read like she’d gotten a grip on her life. No such luck. After four more long years of drugs, drink, and disaster she was found dead on her bathroom floor in 1967.
Payton post-mortems usually describe her problems as self-induced, but that’s simplistic. In the 1950s famous men did anything they wished, but women had to be careful not to be seen doing the same. Still do today. That’s the part Payton had problems with. Even so, she had several happy periods during her life. One of those was the stretch she spent in Mexico married to a young fisherman. About this time she says, “We fished and I caught big ones, and we loved and for a couple of years it was beautiful. My big problems were what to cook for dinner. But it was inevitable the ants in my pants would start crawling again.”
We like that passage, because nearly all the stories about Payton declare, or at least suggest, that everything that happened after Hollywood stardom was part of a terminal plummet. That’s pretty much the default setting in American journalism—anything other than wealth and fame is by definition failure. It’s an idiotic conceit, even a harmful one, and Payton reveals that in Mexico she landed someplace solid and safe, and got along fine without money or recognition. Two years of happiness is nothing to take lightly. But she just couldn’t sit still—not because of where she was, but because of who she was.
And the spiral continued—cheaper and cheaper forms of prostitution, physical confrontations that resulted in her getting some of her teeth knocked out, and more. In all of these tales there’s a recurrent theme of lowly types taking advantage of her, but we can’t help noting that she was paid a mere $1,000 for her autobiography, an absurdly deficient amount for a former top star with a crazy story to tell, which suggests to us that guys in office suites take as much advantage—or more—of a person’s hard luck as guys in alleys. We have some scans below, and Payton will undoubtedly appear here again.
American actress Rhonda Fleming, who was a rarity due to actually being born and raised in the city of Hollywood, became known as “The Queen of Technicolor” because of her flaming red hair. It isn’t evident in this promo shot from the mid 1940s, but it might evident in film titles such as The Redhead and the Cowboy, in which she starred with Glenn Ford, and Those Redheads from Seattle, which paired her with Gene Barry. Fleming is still around, and we'll have more on her a little later.
Sixty-three years ago today Rita Hayworth electrified as the archetypal femme fatale.
Gilda is a film that appears on every list of top ten noirs we’ve ever seen, and still it is impossible to overstate how great the movie is. Rita Hayworth had acted in more than a dozen features before this one, but she was a revelation here. Her husband steps into her bedroom saying, “Gilda, are you decent?” And she appears with a hairflip and a wicked smile, saying, “Me?” Right away you know you’re in for a ride. You know this is a woman who is never decent. Something about the blazing eyes seems to promise unimaginable carnal adventures. She stands backlit in a nearly sheer shirt that shows the silhouettes of her breasts. After a song and dance routine she allows a stranger onstage to try and zip her out of her strapless black dress. At one point, about to ride off into the night with a suitor, she says, “Haven’t you heard, Gabe? If I’d been a ranch they’d have named me the Bar Nothing.” All this just to drive poor Glenn Ford mad with jealousy. Yes, Gilda is a femme fatale for the ages, and Gilda is a must-see piece of American cinema.
A classic noir raises the temperature in the icy north.
When Swedes heard about The Big Heat, they said “Gud, tack själv,” because they were all freezing their asses off and though the movie was a documentary about how to stay warm. But no, it was just top-notch film noir, which generated its own warmth, especially if you conjured up dirty thoughts of Gloria Grahame. The movie was directed by film noir black-belt Fritz Lang, and tough guy Lee Marvin had a great supporting role. Oh, and if you’re wondering, yes, Jocelyn Brando is related to Marlon—she was his older sister. She died in 2005 after a lengthy career acting mostly on the telly. The Big Heat opened today in Stockholm, 1953.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1955—Disneyland Begins Operations
The amusement park Disneyland opens in Orange County, California for 6,000 invitation-only guests, before opening to the general public the following day.
1959—Holiday Dies Broke
Legendary singer Billie Holiday
, who possessed one of the most unique voices in the history of jazz, dies in the hospital of cirrhosis of the liver. She had lost her earnings to swindlers over the years, and upon her death her bank account contains seventy cents.
1941—DiMaggio Hit Streak Reaches 56
New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio gets a hit in his fifty-sixth consecutive game. The streak would end the next game, against the Cleveland Indians, but the mark DiMaggio set still stands, and in fact has never been seriously threatened. It is generally thought to be one of the few truly unbreakable baseball records.
1939—Adams Completes Around-the-World Air Journey
American Clara Adams becomes the first woman passenger to complete an around-the-world air journey. Her voyage began and ended in New York City, with stops in Lisbon, Marseilles, Leipzig, Athens, Basra, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
1955—Nobel Prize Winners Unite Against Nukes
Eighteen Nobel laureates sign the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, which reads in part: We think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of [nuclear] weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce.
1997—Versace Murdered in Miami
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot dead on the steps of his Miami mansion as he returns from breakfast at a cafe. His killer is Andrew Cunanan, a man who had already murdered four other people across the country and was the focus of an FBI manhunt. The FBI never caught Cunanan—instead he committed suicide on the houseboat where he was living.
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