There's nothing harder than facing your worst fear.
The poster for Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 thriller Vertigo, designed by Saul Bass, is one of the most famous and influential promos ever made. Bass actually can't take full credit for it—he oversaw its creation, but the unique spiral pattern was made by John Whitney and the figures were drawn by Art Goodman. Bass and Co. made a couple of similar versions of the poster for the film's U.S. run. We showed you one a while back, and now the above version completes the pair. If you haven't seen Vertigo, we can't tell you much that hasn't already been written. Four years after starring in Rear Window Jimmy Stewart plays another damaged man for Hitchcock, a San Francisco detective who has of fear of heights, the result of a rooftop chase gone wrong. He later gets involved in a mystery that puts his acrophobia to the ultimate test. Many say this is Hitchcock's best movie. We don't think so, but it's definitely a landmark, particularly as it relates to co-star Kim Novak's role, its opening action sequence, and its reliance upon San Francisco locations to help tell its story. In fact, the latter aspect was why the film's world premiere took place in San Francisco today in 1958. Below you see some screen grabs, along with a beautiful promo poster that was made for the movie's run in India. Put Vertigo in your queue.
In mid-century action magazines trouble always has a woman at its center.
Adventure for Men is new magazine for us, part of a group a friend couriered over from the U.S. last year. The art in this April 1968 issue is uncredited in the masthead, but two spreads are signed by Howell Dodd. The stories range from tales of wild 1890s San Francisco to uncharted Madagascar to your nearby nudist camp. And of course, par for the course for such publications, all the adventures seem to revolve around women, which makes them miss-adventures, so to speak. But we'll admit we haven't read all of the magazine yet. The piece “Sex Mistakes Most People Make!” for example. We figured we're better off not knowing.
But we did read the story on the sex camps of the Red Chinese. In times of stress people will believe anything, and there was no greater time of stress than the Cold War, a period during which most people feared they were seconds away from nuclear incineration. We're all still potentially seconds away from nuclear incineration, but back then those fears were openly exploited for political gain and monetary profit by con artists as diverse as the U.S. government and the New York City tabloid industry. Adventure for Men joins in the fun with its China sex camps tale.
During the 1960s, when Chinese were already suffering from both famine and widespread state violence, many were sent to prison camps to work and be re-educated. Conditions were generally awful, and often life threatening. Inmates were cold, underfed, besieged by vermin, and physically abused. As terrible as all that is, it still isn't enough for Adventure for Men, as journalist Alexander Ford takes the harrowing story of Chinese dissident Kuo Chung-hsaio and his wife and inflates it into sleaze fiction. Oh yeah. Political imprisonment can be erotic. All Reds are perverts. But the “sex camps” trumpeted on Adventure for Men's cover refers not to any state sanctioned sexual abuse. That accusation is never made. No—it refers to a specific voyeuristic prison official.
This official would not let Chung-hsaio see his wife unless the couple had sex while he was in the room watching. Chung-hsaio describes through Ford how humiliating and horrible the experience was, though he neglects to explain how he and his wife were even able to sexually function with their tormentor staring from the corner. Naturally, in the end it's the official's deviancy that creates the opportunity for the couple's daring escape. Do we buy this titillating tale of how a jailer got his rocks off, let his guard down, and ended up permanently cooled by Chung-hsaio's righteous hand? Not even a little bit. It's right from Hollywood's b-movie playbook—smash cut and they're out. But we'll admit that for short form sleaze it's actually pretty good. Scans below.
The Noir City Film Festival arrives in the Bay for its 16th year.
We wanted to show you the latest Noir City Film Festival promo posters, like we traditionally do, because it's a nostalgia trip for us from our time living in the San Fran Bay area. This year we aren't going to try to watch all the movies. Well, we may watch the movies, but we won't write about them. Or maybe we'll write about one or two. Anyway, Noir City, Bay area, audience members in period costumes—go. There's nothing like an old movie on a big screen.
Five iconic paintings depict the Ruelhs of aviation.
During the 1930s Wisconsin born artist Ruehl Heckman executed five aviation themed paintings for the Thomas D. Murphy Calendar Company illustrating the reach and romance of aerial machinery by juxtaposing it against far flung natural and urban U.S. vistas. There were five total, all collectible, and you see them above: “Dawn of a New Age,” featuring lower Manhattan and New York Harbor, “Racing the Sun,” featuring an unspecified area of the west, probably Arizona, “The Spirit of Progress,” showing San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge, “Flying over Avalon,” featuring Santa Catalina Island at twilight, and “Where Progress and Romance Meet,” showing pre-statehood Hawaii. These paintings are all iconic yet Heckman himself remains barely known. This could be because his career was cut short—he was killed in a car accident in 1942. As of right now he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. But we think these pieces are quite nice. Like the early Pan Am posters we shared a while back, they capture a romance in aerial transport that is deader than a doornail today.
You liar! Your website promised high speed internet!
You ever stay in a place and the internet sucks? It happens to us all the time. The amenities are also sorely lacking at Guido d’Arpino's San Francisco rooming house, but at least his daughter Emma is sexually available to most of the guests that roll through, including touring saxophonist Harry Purcell. Their involvement produces an unexpected customer bonus: pregnancy! The impending arrival of the little d’Arpino sets into a motion a series of events that leads to murder. Since the story is told in flashback at Harry's trial, none of this is a surprise, but the details of how he ended up in the dock are interesting, and in the end the lesson of this Prohibition era tale is clear—never get involved with a musician. And we say that as musicians. We're the worst. Pretty good book, though. In the same way San Fran exteriors are used in some of the best mid-century noir movies, author Fred Malloy (a pseudonym too involved to work out on a perfect beach day, sorry), uses San Fran specificity to spice this one up. For people interested in the city, that alone probably is worth the price of the book. 1954 copyright on this edition, and cover art by Saul Levine.
If dance is the hidden language of the soul—dance on.
The above images are a bit more frank than usual for us, but they're also uniquely artful and we had to share them. They show two slighty different shots of Eugenia Leezbinski, who was an obscure dancer of the Jazz Age, ahead of her time in terms of grooming, and a personification of the Martha Graham adage that the body says what words cannot. The photos survive because they were two of many made by famed lensman Arnold Genthe, a German photographer best known for his exposures of San Francisco's Chinatown, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and his portraits of famous people. His exposures of the lovely Leezbinski are dated on the rear—today, 1928.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1920—U.S. Women Gain Right To Vote
The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified despite heavy conservative opposition. It states that no U.S. citizen can be denied the right to vote because of their gender.
1958—Lolita is Published in the U.S.
Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita, about a man's sexual obsession with a pre-pubescent girl, is published in the United States. It had been originally published in Paris three years earlier.
1953—NA Launches Recovery Program
Narcotics Anonymous, a twelve-step program of drug addiction recovery modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, holds its first meeting in Los Angeles, California.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
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