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.
Sørensen throws Playboy fans off her trail.
Tempo was a pocket-sized celeb and pop culture magazine published bi-weekly out of Atlanta and New York City by Sports Report, Inc. We don’t know how long it lasted—this one is vol. 7, issue 9—but we know we’ve never seen one dated before 1953 or after 1958. When Dane Arden appeared on the cover of this one from today in 1956, she was already famous thanks to her appearance as Playboy’s centerfold just the previous month. But she had posed under her real name Elsa Sørensen, and back then that may have kept most Playboy readers from realizing Sørensen and Arden were the same person. We have no idea if that was her intention, or why she’d have wanted to do it, but it’s curious. Our guess is that Playboy wanted an exclusive association with her Sørensen identity, and pressed her to choose a new name for future modeling. Or perhaps she thought of magazines like Tempo as lower class, and didn’t want to diminish her Playboy image. Strange, considering Tempo had been around longer, but possible. Or maybe she simply thought Elsa Sørensen was a little too Danish sounding for Hollywood. But there’s no evidence she ever had an interest in movies, and if she did wouldn’t she have been sacrificing much of the useful recognition she’d gained as a Playboy centerfold? All we can say is it’s one of history’s little mysteries. Hmm… that has a nice ring. Think we’ll claim that one—History’s Little Mysteries™. More Dane/Elsa below, plus Brigitte Bardot, Shirley Falls, Erroll Garner, Sabrina, the Cleveland Browns, Anita Ekberg, et al.
Before moving back to items from other countries, we thought we’d share a few more pieces related to Germany—this time vintage posters. Below are seven excellent examples of thriller and film noir promo art that appeared in that country from 1932 to 1955. They are, top to bottom, Highway 301, Night and the City, Thunder Road, Notorious twice, because both posters are great, Night of the Hunter and Blonde Venus.
Only the good go to sleep at night.
The French coined the term film noir, so it seems only fitting to feature a collection of French posters celebrating the genre. Above and below are fifteen examples promoting films noir from France, Britain, and the U.S., representing some of the best ever produced within the art form, as well as some less celebrated examples that we happen to love. Of those, we highly recommend seeing Le salaire de la peur, for which you see the poster above, and Ride the Pink Horse, below, which played as Et tournent les chevaux de bois in France. Just a word about those films (and feel free to skip ahead to the art, because really, who has time these days to listen to a couple of anonymous internet scribes ramble on about old movies?).
1953’s Le salaire de la peur is about a group of men stranded in an oil company town in the mountains of South America. In order to earn the wages to get out, four of them agree to drive two trucks filled with nitroglycerine over many miles of dangerous terrain. The idea is to use the chemicals to put out a raging oil well fire that is consuming company profits by the second, but of course the film is really about whether the men can even get there alive. Le salaire de la peur was critically praised when released in Europe, but in the U.S., political factions raised their ugly heads and got censors to crudely re-edit the prints so as to reduce the movie’s anti-capitalist (and by extension anti-American) subtext. The movie was later remade by Hollywood twice—once in 1958 as Hell’s Highway, and again in 1977 as Sorcerer. The original is by far the best.
1947’s Ride the Pink Horse is an obscure noir, but a quintessential one, in our opinion. If many noirs feature embittered World War II vets as their anti-heroes, Robert Montgomery’s Lucky Gagin is the bitterest of them all. He arrives in a New Mexico border town on a quest to avenge the death of a friend. The plot is thin—or perhaps stripped down would be a better description—but Montgomery’s atmospheric direction makes up for that. Like a lot of mid-century films featuring ethnic characters, the most important one is played by a white actor (Wanda Hendrix, in a coating of what looks like brown shoe polish). It's racist, for sure, but within the universe of the film Lucky Gagin sees everyone around him only as obstacles or allies—i.e., equals within his own distinct worldview. So that makes up for it. Or maybe not. In any case, we think Ride the Pink Horse is worth a look. Thirteen more posters below.
If you can’t be factual, at least be popular.
Hush-Hush magazine goes for broke in this issue from August 1963, offering up a slate of tales narrated in their usual breathless style. First, they tell us how Roddy McDowall took nude photographs of Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra and tried to sell them, but was thwarted when she “erupted like Mount Vesuvius”. They then demonstrate the limits of their imaginations by telling us that Italian singer Silvana Blasi reacted like “an uncontrollable Mount Vesuvius” when an African-American dancer was hired at the Folies Bergère. Two volcano similes in one issue is bad enough, but the same mountain? For investigative journalism, Hush-Hush shows us photographs of a dead Carole Landis and an unconscious Susan Hayward, and concludes that sleeping pills are bad. And finally, the magazine stokes the fires of paranoia with two stories: in the first, they explain how Fidel Castro plans to conquer America with heroin, which he’s growing with the help of two-thousand Chinese advisors; in the second, they reveal that the second wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard is a Nazi who plans to revive the Third Reich, and that she’s being helped by—you guessed it—Fidel Castro, who is somehow a communist and a Nazi. Neat trick that. As we’ve mentioned before, though these stories are laughable, people actually believed them, and believed them by the millions, as evidenced by Hush-Hush’s sales figures. The lesson is clear: the choice between popularity and truth is really no choice at all.
Looking at things from a Q perspective.
We have another issue of On the Q.T. today. The cover subject, Beverly Aadland, was a teenaged actress who earned notoriety for being Errol Flynn’s last lover. Flynn always preferred young girls—oftentimes too young, depending on whom you believe. When he wrote his disappointingly bland (at least to us) autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways, the dedication read: To a small companion. We would have guessed Flynn meant his cock, since it got him into so much trouble during his life, but more informed sources than us say the companion he meant was Beverly Aadland. We stand corrected, and she stands explained for those who didn’t know who she was.
Moving on, On the Q.T. also mentions a person named Giesler. This would be Jerry Giesler, who is little known now, but was once Tinseltown’s lawyer-to-the-stars. To say he possessed secrets is an understatement considering he represented the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Edward G. Robinson, Marilyn Monroe, Shelley Winters, Lili St. Cyr, Busby Berkeley (from triple manslaughter charges), Zsa Zsa Gabor, Errol Flynn (again, with Flynn), and too many more to name. But of all his exploits, the most famous was his sensational defense of fourteen year-old Cheryl Crane from murder charges.
It’s one of the most lurid stories in Hollywood history. Crane was the daughter of megastar Lana Turner, and had endured many difficulties early in life, including alleged molestation and rape by Turner’s fourth husband, actor Lex Barker. Turner had an abusive situation of her own with mob enforcer Johnny Stompanato, a violent man who slapped her around but clung onto her for dear life no matter how hard she tried to dump him. On April 4, 1958, Cheryl Crane stabbed Stompanato to death. She claimed the mobster was beating her mother and she had no choice but to attack him. Not to be morbid, but oh to have been a fly on the wall as this fourteen year-old girl went Benihana on a feared mobster. What an astounding scene that must have been, especially to Stompanato, who you see in peaceful repose above. Anyway, Cheryl Crane said the stabbing was done in her mother's defense, and Jerry Giesler convinced a jury she was right.
Already famous enough to command what were at the time enormous retainers, Giesler's reputation was forever sealed after the Crane trial. He was simply the best, the go-to attorney for a celeb in a town that was always boiling with trouble. As a result of Giesler's exploits, Hollywood coined a catchphrase, a collection of magic words believed to possess the power to solve even the toughest problems. The phrase? "Get me Giesler."
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
In Detective Comics #27, DC Comics publishes its second major superhero, Batman, who becomes one of the most popular comic book characters of all time, and then a popular camp television series starring Adam West, and lastly a multi-million dollar movie franchise starring Michael Keaton, then George Clooney, and finally Christian Bale.
1953—Crick and Watson Publish DNA Results
British scientists James D Watson and Francis Crick publish an article detailing their discovery of the existence and structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, in Nature magazine. Their findings answer one of the oldest and most fundamental questions of biology, that of how living things reproduce themselves.
1967—First Space Program Casualty Occurs
Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov dies in Soyuz 1 when, during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere after more than ten successful orbits, the capsule's main parachute fails to deploy properly, and the backup chute becomes entangled in the first. The capsule's descent is slowed, but it still hits the ground at about 90 mph, at which point it bursts into flames. Komarov is the first human to die during a space mission.
1986—Otto Preminger Dies
Austro–Hungarian film director Otto Preminger, who directed such eternal classics as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder
, Carmen Jones
, The Man with the Golden Arm
, and Stalag 17
, and for his efforts earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, dies in New York City, aged 80, from cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
1998—James Earl Ray Dies
The convicted assassin of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., petty criminal James Earl Ray, dies in prison of hepatitis aged 70, protesting his innocence as he had for decades. Members of the King family who supported Ray's fight to clear his name believed the U.S. Government had been involved in Dr. King's killing, but with Ray's death such questions became moot.
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