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.
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.
1957—Ginsberg Poem Seized by Customs
On the basis of alleged obscenity, United States Customs officials seize 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" that had been shipped from a London printer. The poem contained mention of illegal drugs and explicitly referred to sexual practices. A subsequent obscenity trial was brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore, the poem's domestic publisher. Nine literary experts testified on the poem's behalf, and Ferlinghetti won the case when a judge decided that the poem was of redeeming social importance.
1975—King Faisal Is Assassinated
King Faisal of Saudi Arabia dies after his nephew Prince Faisal Ibu Musaed shoots him during a royal audience. As King Faisal bent forward to kiss his nephew the Prince pulled out a pistol and shot him under the chin and through the ear. King Faisal died in the hospital after surgery. The prince is later beheaded in the public square in Riyadh.
1981—Ronnie Biggs Rescued After Kidnapping
Fugitive thief Ronnie Biggs, a British citizen who was a member of the gang that pulled off the Great Train Robbery, is rescued by police in Barbados after being kidnapped. Biggs had been abducted a week earlier from a bar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by members of a British security firm. Upon release he was returned to Brazil and continued to be a fugitive from British justice.
2011—Elizabeth Taylor Dies
American actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose career began at age 12 when she starred in National Velvet
, and who would eventually be nominated for five Academy Awards as best actress and win for Butterfield 8
and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. During her life she had been hospitalized more than 70 times.
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