Delon and company play cops and robbers in the City by the Bay.
Once a Thief opens with a San Francisco nightclub drummer playing a cracking solo, cymbal crashes synched to quick edits, and we immediately think we're in for some sort of revolutionary beat generation noir, with the edgy rhythms and nervous energy that idea entails. But the movie quickly subsides to conventional pacing, telling the story of a former thief gone straight suspected of a recent murder, and the cop determined to put him away—guilty or innocent. Alain Delon plays crook-turned-family man Eddie, and Ann-Margret is his wife Kristine. Even if the movie doesn't live up to its jazzy opening, getting Sweden's hottest actress and France's hottest actor together should be a can't-miss proposition.
Though Eddie is innocent of the murder, police harassment costs him his job. But when you're broke you can always count on family—to make things worse, that is. Eddie's criminal brother shows up and wants help with a bank robbery. After a few fraternal preliminaries, Eddie decides to partner up with his erratic bro, which is when his troubles really start, because his darker nature emerges and it isn't a pretty sight. Ann-Margret, working from the hysteria-as-acting playbook, is not pleased with these developments and over-emotes her displeasure at every opportunity. Even if criminal conspiracy doesn't do Eddie in, marital strife might.
Once a Thief oozes cool, but in the end it's a middling heist drama that asks a bit too much of its principals. It didn't do well in 1965, and we suspect it'll be the least liked offering at Noir City. Audiences may respond to a few aspects, though: there are some nice San Fran exteriors, Lalo Schifrin's soundtrack is top notch, and character actor John Davis Chandler knocks his role of the druggy hepcat villain Jimmy Sargatanas out of the park, over the promenade, and into McCovey Cove. His line, “I don't dig women,” paired with a sneer and a fatal gunshot, will probably bring the house down. As for Delon and Ann-Margret, well, at least they look good.
The fog of noir creeps into San Francisco.
Once again the Noir City Film Festival gears up in our former home turf of San Francisco, and once again the event provides a perfect excuse for us to watch a few of the films. Noir City, now in its fifteenth year, is one of the most established film noir festivals in the U.S., along with those in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. However, the San Fran version sets itself apart with great promo posters like the one you see above, and others you can see from previous fests here.
This year's slate features twenty-four noir and crime thrillers, including entries from Japan, England, France, and Italy. We'll keep our musings on these films brief as always, because yet more extravagantly written amateur movie reviews are not needed online. For those in the Bay Area, we recommend taking advantage of the opportunity to see these classic movies as they were intended to be shown—on a big screen in a packed house.
Novedades Editores takes readers on a five city tour of street crime and murder.
Mexican pulp art has grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to the efforts of vendors and collectors. It differs from U.S. pulp in that it was produced decades later—during the 1970s and forward. The covers you see here today are prime examples of what is generally classified as Mexican pulp, made for the comic book series El libro policiaco, or "The Police Book," and published by Novedades Editores during the early 2000s. The series was so popular that, like the U.S. television show C.S.I., the books diversified into multiple cities—New Orleans, New York City, Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco. Each city's stories centered around a local police department staffed by a multi-ethnic array of cops and support personnel. And as the banner text proclaims, the interior art was indeed in color, ninety-two pages of it per issue. All the covers here were created by Jorge Aviña, an artist who began his career during the 1970s, and has had his work exhibited in London, Switzerland, Barcelona, and Paris. We'll have more from El libro policiaco a bit later.
Work halted on San Francisco renovation after 19th century coffin is uncovered.
In San Francisco, where high-end property renovations are occurring all over the city at breakneck speed, even the dead are being pushed out by gentrification. Last week workers digging beneath a home in the Richmond neighborhood unearthed a metal and glass coffin from the 1870s that holds the body of a little girl.
We had no idea such items existed, but after doing a little research we discovered that ornate metal caskets, usually made of cast iron or lead, were popular during the mid- to late-1800s among the more affluent. A Providence, Rhode Island man named Almond Fisk was the first to patent them, which he displayed in 1849 at the New York State Agricultural Society Fair in Syracuse, and the American Institute Exhibition in New York City.
He called them Fisk Metallic Burial Cases, and they came in an amazing variety, including Egyptian style sarcophagi. The coffins were airtight, helping preserve bodies during an era when the embalming arts were not as advanced as today and a week could elapse before arrangements were made to bury a loved one and family gathered for the send-off. They were also welded shut, preventing grave robberies—a serious problem of the times, not only due to valuables that might be buried with bodies, but also due to the price a well-preserved corpse could fetch from unscrupulous medical schools looking for research cadavers.
Fisk's sales materials boast that not only could his burial cases be drained of air, aiding preservation, but—if one chose—filled with any type of atmosphere or fluid. Just a year after he displayed them at those New York exhibitions, former U.S. Vice-President and Secretary of State John C. Calhoun died and was buried in one. The publicity caused a wave of nationwide interest that prompted Fisk to license his expensive invention to other companies. Eventually, Crane, Breed & Co., of Cincinnati and New Orleans acquired a license, and made coffins sporting the types of viewing windows featured on the San Francisco discovery.
What will happen the little girl's body is still unknown. San Francisco ordinances make her the property owner's responsibility. Reburial has been mentioned by said property owner, but we'd be surprised if anthropologists didn't get a look at the girl first. Autopsies on bodies ofthat age have uncovered troves of data about diet, disease, and more. Afterward she can be laid to rest somewhere well out of the way of San Francisco's ongoing makeover into millionaire Disneyland.
From stripteaser to legal trailblazer.
After being arrested two weeks earlier, topless burlesque dancer Carol Doda was acquitted of obscenity charges today in 1965, along with fellow dancers Yvonne D'Angers, Kay Star, and Euraine Heimberg. The above photo shows her standing outside San Francisco's Condor Club, where the arrest had taken place. The court case marked the legalization of topless dancing not just in San Fran, but helped usher in the practice elsewhere. Doda went on to push the envelope further when she graduated into totally nude dancing in 1969. Three years later the city passed an ordinance prohibiting total nudity in establishments that served alcohol. Such laws remain the norm even today in nearly the entirety of the U.S. Doda continued performing regularly until the 1980s, then opened a shop in San Francisco called Carol Doda's Champagne and Lace Lingerie Boutique. She died last year due to kidney failure. You can read a bit more about her trial and acquittal here.
If only their taste in mates matched their taste in music.
The Noir City Film Festival continues its challenging 2016 slate when it screens another pair of classics tonight—Love Me or Leave Me and Young Man with a Horn. Both are musical dramas, and though neither is a noir, both take viewers to dark places. In the 1920s period piece Love Me or Leave Me velvety-voiced Doris Day stars as a struggling chanteuse given a break by gangster James Cagney. He quickly becomes her manager and uses force to launch a national career, blind to the fact that she has real talent and can succeed with no strongarm man to back her. But Cagney doesn't see her talent—show business is gangsterism for him, and bullying is how he operates. When he finally bullies his way into marriage with Day his constant rage transforms her into an indifferent and isolated woman.
This is one of those movies that will, especially in a full house in San Francisco, trigger groans of distaste as Cagney ticks all the worst boxes of reprehensible human beings—treating women like meat, slapping them around, trying to obtain sex by force, dispensing emotional abuse, and using violence as a tool in every situation, against both women and men. But the audience may be just as hard on Day by the final reel forpossessing a level of forgiveness that is alien to people circa 2016. Love Me or Leave Me is an excellent movie—cringe inducing in parts, but deeply involving, and perhaps destined to be the most discussed film of the festival.
Day stars in Young Man with a Horn as well, singing again, this time with Kirk Douglas, who plays a gifted child musician who grows up to be an ace trumpet player thanks to the tutelage of an elder jazzman. Unfortunately he has a congenital inability to conform, particularly when it means playing dance band music over improvisational jazz. The arrival of a femme fatale—in the person of the awesome Lauren Bacall—brings a whole new set of troubles. The gender roles are reversed from Love Me or Leave Me, but the films each explore how a bad relationship saps the joy from the soul of an artist, and Day is winningly sweet in both.
Perhaps by now you’ve noticed the theme that has emerged with this year’s Noir City offerings—they are all about artists or their artistic output. In Rear Window and The Public Eye it’s photographers, in The Two Mrs. Carrolls it’s a painter, In a Lonely Place and The Bitter Stems deal with a screenwriter and journalist, Deception and Humroresque look at classical musicians, and The Dark Corner and Crack Up deal with art ascommerce and contraband respectively. The theme is nice, but once again two films will be screening tonight that present yet another challenge to noir purists attending this year’s fest. Both films are great, but we’ll be surprised if organizers stray this far from the form next year.
San Francisco welcomes murder and mayhem for the fourteenth time.
San Francisco's Noir City Film Festival remains one of the best of its type in the U.S. Its fourteenth incarnation kicks off today in San Fran with Rear Window and The Public Eye. The first isn't a noir, but fits comfortably on the festival program; the second is a sort of noir, though a newer one, and is an inspired choice, in our opinion. We just wonder whether people who pay for two films noir will be happy with those two selections on opening night. In any case, we take a peek at both films below. Other offerings this year include the Bogart vehicles The Two Mrs. Carrolls and In a Lonely Place, Screaming Mimi, Corridor of Mirrors, The Dark Corner plus more than twenty other titles, and we'll be taking a look at some of these films throughout the next week.
Reaching the top isn’t easy. Staying on top is even harder.
Above is a Spanish poster by Josep Soligó Tena for La casa de la colina, which was originally released in the U.S. as The House on Telegraph Hill. The movie tells the story of a Polish concentration camp survivor—played by Valentina Cortese—who upon release takes the identity of her dead friend, and later insinuates herself into the lives of the dead woman’s San Francisco relatives. This identity swap is the classic Hitchcockian MacGuffin, which is to say it initially seems to be the plot driver, but later isn’t important at all. While Cortese’s labyrinthine lie is always a worrisome background element, the movie is really about how she finds herself embroiled in an inheritance mess and a love triangle. We thought this movie was quite good, but you do have to ignore bits like the improbable placement of a child’s playhouse above a sheer drop (in a sense, another MacGuffin, as the threat of falling has no bearing at all on later developments). Highly recommended movie, and it has nice San Fran exteriors as a bonus. The House on Telegraph Hill premiered in the U.S. in 1951, and as La casa de la colina in Spain today in 1952. See more work from Tena here.
Doris Day finds herself hunted around the clock by a demented killer.
In the thriller Julie Doris Day finds out her second husband is a murderer. Who did he murder? Her first husband. No spoiler there. Day learns this within the first fifteen minutes, leaving the plot to revolve around her efforts to escape being permanently silenced for her discovery. By the end of this romp set in and around the wilds of Carmel, Monterrey, and finishing in San Francisco, she’s probably developed a fear of flying, a fear of driving, a fear of piano music, a fear of the dark, and of course a fear of ever having a third husband. It’s psychological warfare at its cruelest, and Day, along with co-stars Louis Jourdan and Barry Sullivan, do a nice job of making it all work. We don’t have a Japanese premier date to match the nice Japanese poster above, but Julie opened in the U.S. today in 1956.
Virginity wasn’t against the law, but topless dancing was—until she came along.
Burlesque dancer Yvonne D’Angers graces the cover of this Midnight published today in 1967. She was born in Teheran, Iran and reached the height of her fame after a 1965 obscenity trial, a government threat to deport her, a publicity stunt where she chained herself to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and a 1966 appearance in Playboy. There’s surprisingly little about her online—not even a measly Wikipedia page. But she was important within her milieu—she was one of four defendants in the aforementioned obscenity trial, along with Carol Doda, Kay Star, and Euraine Heimberg, and the acquittal legalized topless dancing and waitressing in San Francisco. That decision made San Fran the first city in the U.S. where this was the case.
D’Angers’ main haunt was the Off Broadway on Kearney Street, but she also danced at Gigi’s, which was located on Broadway, and she worked in Las Vegas, in addition to touring the U.S. She was married to Off Broadway owner Voss Boreta, and he was her manager, making her part a client list that included Doda and the topless girl-band The Ladybirds. She was also—though this is not often noted—a college graduate anda painter. She billed herself as being naturally endowed, but both she and Doda were said by people who knew them early in their careers to have been worked on by cosmetic surgeons. The above shots of D’Angers, pre-fame, pre-blonde, versus post-fame, 44D, hanging out with Trini Lopez, seem to confirm those stories. Well have more on D’Angers (and Doda) later. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1938—Chicora Meteor Lands
In the U.S., above Chicora, Pennsylvania, a meteor estimated to have weighed 450 metric tons explodes in the upper atmosphere and scatters fragments across the sky. Only four small pieces are ever discovered, but scientists estimate that the meteor, with an explosive power of about three kilotons of TNT, would have killed everyone for miles around if it had detonated in the city.
1973—Peter Dinsdale Commits First Arson
A fire at a house in Hull, England, kills a six year old boy and is believed to be an accident until it later is discovered to be a case of arson. It is the first of twenty-six deaths by fire caused over the next seven years by serial-arsonist Peter Dinsdale. Dinsdale is finally captured in 1981, pleads guilty to multiple manslaughter, and is detained indefinitely under Britain's Mental Health Act as a dangerous psychotic.
1944—G.I. Bill Goes into Effect
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Servicemen's Readjustment Act into law. Commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, or simply G.I. Bill, the grants toward college and vocational education, generous unemployment benefits, and low interest home and business loans the Bill provided to nearly ten million military veterans was one of the largest factors involved in building the vast American middle class of the 1950s and 1960s.
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