Intl. Notebook Aug 26 2018
A LOOK BACK
The past comes alive in vintage pop culture mag.


You have to admit—Pulp Intl. is one of the great time burning websites around. We're going to incinerate yet more of it today. Above is a cover from Look magazine, a chief competitor of the iconic Life. At the time this August 1937 issue appeared Look was headquartered far from the publishing hotbeds on the coasts, choosing to set up shop in Des Moines, Iowa. The editors claim 1.25 million in newsstands sales every issue. We don't know if that's true, but it was a high quality magazine, and this is a high quality example.

Inside you get Benito Mussolini, a ranking of Hollywood box office earning power, a special murder mystery for readers to solve, several pages of Gary Cooper, and a small photo feature on a German town that baptized every visitor, which is an interesting historical curiosity considering that in a devoutly religious country Hitler was successfully fanning the flames of hate against Jews. But “others” never seem to be included in any religion's definition of people deserving good treatment.

Elsewhere inside you get Mexican painter Diego Rivera with Frida Kahlo. Kahlo is referred to by Look editors merely as Rivera's third wife, “seeing to it that he is fed every few hours.” That may have been true, but today she's known throughout the world, recognized as an artist in her own right, which is a reminder that re-examining the past with an emphasis on those who were overlooked—a process some call “revisionism”—is a useful tool for getting things right. Numerous scans below.
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Hollywoodland May 17 2017
NEW YORK STORY
Monroe and Miller make the scene in Manhattan.

Playwright Arthur Miller buys Marilyn Monroe a hot dog during a warm day in New York City. The shot was made for Look magazine for a feature purporting to show how normal Miller and Monroe's married life was—even though there's nothing normal about living in a Sutton Place penthouse. But if photos are illusions, the spell woven by this one is effective. Other photos were made, in a session that took place along 5th Avenue from the Plaza Hotel to the Queensborough Bridge and to various NYC landmarks in between, and the truth of being celebrity superstars is only revealed when the photographer finally shoots the crowd Monroe and Miller drew, seen below in the next-to-last panel. These were made in 1957.

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Vintage Pulp Feb 7 2011
KILLER HANGOVER
Little known 1945 thriller Hangover Square is close to flawless.

We’re just going to come out and tell you that 1945’s Hangover Square is a tour de force. It’s one of those titles we never quite got around to, but we fixed that last week and rarely have we made better use of ninety minutes. A Victorian melodrama, a mystery, and a thriller, Hangover Square tells the story of a brilliant composer beset by blackouts during which he fears a dark and violent side of his personality emerges to wreak havoc Jack the Ripper-style on nocturnal London.

Every element of the production clicks, but the success of the picture is mainly due to director John Brahm. Working from Patrick Hamilton’s novel written for the screen by Barré Lyndon, the German-born Brahm does no less than put on a directorial clinic. He cut his teeth in Berlin during the boom years of expressionist cinema, and here he uses an array of dynamic tracking shots, dollies, low-angle close-ups and blurry point-of-view sequences to bring this story to life. As good as Brahm is, the film would not have worked without top notch performances and he gets one from his lead, Laird Cregar. Playing a composer named George Harvey Bone, Cregar is by turns baffled, oafish, charming and terrifying. Bone is a good man—that’s clear. The question is whether he remains good during his blackouts or turns into a murderous Mr. Hyde. We don’t have to wait long for the answer.

If Cregar has a dark side, he isn’t the only one. Linda Darnell, playing a cabaret singer named Letta Longdon, is a femme fatale for the ages. Longdon is all sweetness and lovely smiles, but she’s as rotten as she is ravishing, a creature of high ambition and zero morality always plotting ways to use men to climb the ladder of the popular music industry. Nonecan resist her, even though her duplicitous nature is always clear, never more so than in the shot above, in which we see her kissing the smitten George Harvey Bone while looking toward some imagined future gilded with ill-gotten gains.

Other cast members include George Sanders, Faye Marlowe, and Glenn Langan, but it’s Cregar and Darnell that give this story its heat. Cregar, in addition to turning in a great acting performance, plays all of his composer character’s piano parts, and we’re not talking about “Chopsticks.” In several scenes the camera pans from his hands to his face as he pounds out concerto quality music. Sadly, he never got to see Hangover Square finished. He died December 9, 1944, three months before the film was released. He had dropped one hundred pounds for the role in an attempt to break out of the fat man parts he had been playing until then, but the crash diet killed him. It's reasonable to assume, based on his performance here, that he would have succeeded in moving into more mainstream roles. But he never got the chance to deliver on the promise he showed.

We've discussed the directing and acting, but the brilliance of Hangover Square extends beyond those areas. Its technical elements are all wondrous. Particularly impressive are its special effects. It may sound strange to say that about a film made in 1945, but it’s true. In modern films fire is digitally inserted. Before CGI, flames were live, but were produced under controlled conditions via the use of gas jets. But asany fireman will tell you, real fires smoke. That’s what makes them so dangerous. The final sequence of Hangover Square (major spoiler alert) takes place during a fire as Cregar—not a double or stuntman—plays the finale of a symphony while the recital hall burns around him. Brahm uses a single shot, starting on Cregar’s torso and dollying back to show him surrounded by real fire and real smoke. This sequence could not be shot today—no actor would play it, no studio would allow it, and it would probably be illegal to ask a stuntman to do it. In the final moments smoke converges on Cregar from all sides, swallowing him completely. You can see this in the screen captures below. The first thing we did after the credits rolled was pull up a bio on Cregar to see if he survived the shoot. That’s how hairy it looks. And when we saw that he died three months before the film premiered, we were certain he had perished in the fire scene.

He hadn’t, of course, but strangely, Linda Darnell later did die in a fire. When she was forty-one she was caught in a house blaze and the woman who was once crowned by Look magazine as one of the four most beautiful actresses in Hollywood was burned over ninety percent of her body and face. She died a day later in the hospital. It’s truly a shame. But she did leave behind many films, and in our humble opinion she showed that she was the equal of any actress or actor working at that time. We recommend her, and we recommend Hangover Square. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1945. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
February 23
1945—Flag Raised on Iwo Jima
Four days after landing on the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima, American soldiers of the 28th Regiment, 5th Marine Division take Mount Suribachi and raise an American flag. A photograph of the moment shot by Joe Rosenthal becomes one of the most famous images of WWII, and wins him the Pulitzer Prize later that year.
February 22
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
February 21
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
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