Vintage Pulp Apr 2 2019
ROUND ROBBIN'
Gangsters try to steal Robert Ryan's boxing future.


In film noir there are procedural cop movies. The Set-Up is a procedural boxing movie. It tries to take viewers behind the scenes of the violence, bloodlust, and money to focus on the nuts and bolts of the fight game. Starring Robert Ryan as an aging heavyweight and Audrey Totter as his fretful girlfriend, most of the first half of the film takes place in a claustrophobic locker room as boxer after boxer goes out for subsequent bouts of a six card program like gladiators in Rome's Coliseum. Ryan is the main event, and when his name is called the action shifts to the ring for his fight, which is shown in something close to real time.

Ryan is hoping a win over an up and coming young fighter will earn him one last shot at fortune and glory, but he has no idea the fix is in. Somebody should have told him, because if he wins the bout he'll be in heaps of trouble. This is a good flick. It was helmed by Robert Wise, has some fantastic directorial extravagances, and looks spectacular in general, like the gritty documentary photos of Arthur Weegee Fellig, which is no small feat for a film shot entirely on an RKO backlot (Weegee, incidentally, has a cameo as a timekeeper). In the realm of boxing movies The Set-Up stands toe to toe with most. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1949. 

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Vintage Pulp Feb 2 2019
1959: A RACE ODDITY
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.

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Hollywoodland Aug 25 2017
SPARRING PARTNERS
Ryan and Totter punch out of their weight class.


Robert Ryan and Audrey Totter playfight in this series of promo shots made for the 1949 film noir The Set-Up. Totter plays an up and coming boxer while Ryan plays her much older trainer. No wait—that was Million Dollar Baby. Actually, Ryan plays the boxer, an aging one, while Totter plays his girl. She wants him to retire but he thinks he can still win. He doesn't even seem to be winning in these photos, so you probably have doubts how well he does in the film. We may talk about it in more detail later.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 21 2016
JUST DESERT
Food and water may sustain a man, but it's revenge that really fills the belly.

In Inferno, a boorish millionaire played by Robert Ryan breaks his leg falling off a horse during a desert vacation and is left to die by his two-timing wife and her boy toy. While the lovers cover their tracks and try to confuse the police and search parties, Ryan has to figure out a way to escape the desert. We were surprised a movie like this was made back in 1953. There have been a lot of nature horror and survival thrillers in recent years and we had no idea the genre had roots so far back. The movie is solid, though we thought Robert Ryan's voiceover was often unneeded—maybe he should have had a volleyball to talk to like Tom Hanks in Castaway. But it's a minor issue. We gather that this had a 3-D release, which of course we didn't see, but it's obvious, especially during a truly tremendous fight scene where assorted and sundry items fly at the camera. But even watching in two dimensions you still get a nice piece of entertainment, shot in crisp Technicolor, well-paced and acted, as the desert provides assorted challenges and Ryan must come up with the needed answers or die. Inferno premiered in the U.S. today in 1953.

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Vintage Pulp Oct 20 2013
CAUGHT IN A CROSSFIRE
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.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 7 2009
SCISSORS SISTER
Note to self: Next time I hire a handyman, ask for references.

We have a nice poster here for Beware, My Lovely, starring Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan. Lupino hires Ryan to do some work around her house but doesn’t know he’s a seriously deranged mental case subject to violent mood swings. Interesting as the film is, we can’t fully recommend it because of its somewhat improbable confinement scenario. Or put another way, even though reasons are presented for why the heroine can’t simply escape by running out of the house, they aren’t very convincing. But on the plus side, the movie does have the ultra-talented Lupino, who was one of Hollywood’s top quadruple threats (writer, director, actress, producer). In fact, her contributions to film noir are extensive and important. So it’s an enthusiastic yes on Lupino, but a qualified maybe on Beware, My Lovely. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1952.     

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 21
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.
April 20
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.
April 19
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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