They'll have to choose what they hate more—their circumstances or each other.
The Noir City Film Festival rolls on with Robert Wise's 1959 thriller Odds Against Tomorrow. Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan star in a heist story that brings a touch of underground jazz and an edge of racial tension to the narrative mix. It would play nicely on a double bill with In the Heat of the Night, but fits at Noir City too. In fact it might be the darkest film noir on the bill. Belafonte is in debt to mobsters and Ryan is broke and feels emasculated being supported by his girlfriend. When ex-cop Ed Begley brings the two together for a lucrative robbery both see it as the only answer. The robbery has the same problems associated with any heist, with the added complication of Ryan's racism.
Some reviews of this film try to suggest equivalence between these two characters. Uh, no. Belafonte's separatist leanings and distrust of whites in a society that is unfair toward him is a precaution; Ryan's separatist leanings and distrust of blacks in a society that favors him is oppression. This is a basic sociological truth as it relates to power in any society, and it's irksome that some reviewers miss this. Belafonte respondsto aggressive hate with reactive hate. The expectation that he possess superhuman forbearance while his oppressor can be merely human removes context and wrongly demands that everybody behave identically despite their different circumstances and different locations within the spectrum of power.
Much of the movie examines Belafonte's and Ryan's respective attitudes along these lines, with the heist coming in a flurry of action at the end. The robbery is basically foolproof, but only if the powder keg of racial resentment doesn't blow it sky high. The points Wise is making here, which originate with William P. McGivern's novel, are simply these: cooperate and succeed, or fight and fail. All Ryan needs to do extend the hand of respect, but because of his prejudice he fails again and again, which hardens Belafonte's already suspicious attitudes. Who do these two hate more—their circumstances or each other? That's what Odds Against Tomorrow asks, about its characters, and the U.S. Festivalgoers will leave the cinema talking about this one.
The thrill of the Chasse.
This promo poster from Colombia Pictures was made to promote the Belgian run of the film noir Chasse à l'homme, better known as The Glass Wall. This is an interesting one. Starring Vittorio Gassman and Gloria Grahame, the movie is set at the end of World War II and tells the story of a Hungarian refugee who arrives in New York harbor as a stowaway on a ship. Onboard immigration cops catch him, but he eludes them and jumps ship to search for a war buddy who can prove he has the right to legal residency under a special exemption for those who aided Allied soldiers. He must find this friend who can prove his bona fides, and do it within twenty four hours or be permanently barred from the U.S. A photo in the morning paper alerts the public and Chasse à l'homme becomes a double manhunt—the hero's search for his buddy, and the cops' search for the hero. The film is obviously a piece of light propaganda concerning the desirability of life in the U.S., but as a noir it also shows a darker side to American society, such as when Gloria Grahame is under threat of eviction, and when the landlady's son tries to force himself on her. Gassman was an experienced actor by this point, and Grahame, as noted on the poster, had already won an Academy Award for The Bad and the Beautiful. Both do solid work here. The movie opened in the U.S. in March of 1953 and reached Brussels, Belgium today in 1954.
Caught between the dark and a hard place.
This 1949 Pocket Books paperback of In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes is a rarity. The novel is abundantly available today, but the first edition paperback you see above is hard to find. The story was made into a 1950 movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, but the final product bears little resemblance to the novel. Actually, the movie is a lesson in how source material can be completely cannibalized yet still made into a superior product. In a Lonely Place the movie, after all, is considered one of the best of the mid-century noirs. We said the same about it last year. But unlike the film, Hughes' novel leaves no doubt that main character Dixon Steele is a murderer. In fact, it's the central plot device—he kills a wealthy man and assumes his identity. The novel is said to be an inspiration for Patricia Highsmith's famed murderous grifter Tom Ripley. The nice art on In a Lonely Place was painted by Frank McCarthy, a prolific illustrator of paperbacks and magazine covers who toward the end of his career moved into fine art with frontier and western themes. We haven't featured him before but he'll doubtless pop up again.
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.
He's the guy who always ruins the party.
Bogart has an anger problem. You know someone just like him. He claims to be unaffected by the human condition and would have you believe all others are weaklings and he is strong. But of course when things don't go his way he flies into a rage, showing that he's actually frailer than most. Indifference and anger—two sides of the same coin for those unable to cope with the world as it is. When a female acquaintance of Bogart's is murdered his uncaring attitude makes the cops suspect he's a killer. Did he do it? Maybe—he's too indifferent to bother convincing the police otherwise. But when he meets his beautiful neighbor Gloria Grahame and the two become involved we see his defense mechanism fall away and be replaced by a renewed interest in life. Grahame becomes the receptacle for all Bogart's hopes, but can she deal with that level of need? More to the point—should she? Critics liked Bogart in this role at the time, and In a Lonely Place is today considered one of the best noirs. We have to agree. It's a psychological study of a personality type that has probably proliferated in America since 1950, which makes it relevant viewing in 2016. Highly recommended.
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.
It was a wonderful Life.
An ethereal Gloria Grahame poses for a promo photo during a session that would produce a famous cover for Life. Grahame was a true great of acting who starred in the classics It’s a Wonderful Life, The Bad and the Beautiful, Human Bondage, and Oklahoma!, but who we prefer to remember for her film noir roles—among them: In a Lonely Place, The Big Heat, Crossfire, Sudden Fear, and Naked Alibi. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she took the town by storm and made an indelible mark in film. The above photo and cover below are from 1946.
Robert Young tries to solve a murder that seems to have no motive.
Above is a Swedish poster for Edward Dmytryk’s Hämnden är rättvis, aka Crossfire, a really interesting film noir about an ex-soldier who is murdered, and his fellow ex-soldiers who are suspects. Police detective Robert Young tries to get to the bottom of the crime, but is increasingly baffled as he realizes the killing did not occur for any of the usual reasons—money, lust, revenge, etc. Different character recollections provide different information about the victim’s last hours, but only serve to underscore the apparent senselesslness of the crime. We can’t reveal the direction Young’s investigation turns without giving away the ending*, but we’ll mention that the movie won an award at Cannes—the Prix du meilleur film social, or Best Social Film.
Though technically and visually brilliant, as a whole we don’t think Crossfire has weathered as well as other noirs (for casual movie watchers it may be too static and talky). But it does have a bravura performance from Robert Ryan, and solid work from both Gloria Grahame and the always excellent Robert Mitchum. As far as the art is concerned, note the strong contrast between the Swedish version and the riotously colorful American ones, which we have below. Swedish film noir posters often de-emphasized color and used long lines to apportion space into several distinct boxes (as seen here, here, here, and here), but the above is one of the most severe examples we’ve found. Crossfire premiered in the U.S. in July 1947, and first played in Stockholm as Hämnden är rättvis today the same year.
*We’ve never worried about giving away endings before. Our capsule reviews are really just excuses to show the poster art and joke around. However, a few recent emails have revealed that some readers actually visit Pulp Intl. for viewing ideas, which just goes to show that after five years online you receive credibility whether you were looking for it or not. So even though recent scientific research shows that people enjoy stories more if they know the endings in advance, we’re going to be better about spoilers in the future. Promise.
He who goes up must one day come down.
This beautiful poster for Vicente Minelli’s 1952 drama The Bad and the Beautiful was made for the film’s French release as Les ensorceles. A behind-the-scenes look at the rise of a legendary Hollywood producer, the story is told in triptych, with each section focused on someone the producer betrayed during his rise to the top. The three sections are wrapped in a framing device wherein the betrayed have been called together to hear the producer’s pitch for working together again. Of course, all of them are too angry to consider such a collaboration—at least at first.
The real attraction here is seeing 1950s Hollywood turn its camera inward for a look at the machinations behind the magic of movies. The cast—Kirk Douglas, Dick Powell, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, and Gloria Grahame—range from excellent to adequate, and the story of ruthlessness being rewarded in Tinseltown has a contemporary feel. The saying goes that it’s best to be nice to everyone you meet on the way up because you run into the same people on the way down. Doubtless that’s true, but even better advice would be to never come down at all.
Turning our attention to the poster, you may notice that the design was inspired by the promo shot just below. Except—hold on a sec. Is that Douglas and Turner? No, it isn’t. It’s Gilbert Roland and super hottie Elaine Stewart. The producers must have liked their dance bit so much they decided to use it as inspiration for the promo art, basically putting Douglas's and Turner's heads atop Roland’s and Stewart’s bodies. That’s like being left on the cutting room floor, but somehow even worse. In Stewart’s case at least, we will be sure to get back to both her head and body. Les ensorceles premiered in France today in 1953.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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