Vintage Pulp Nov 12 2013
SWEDE TEMPTATION
Anita Ekberg single-handedly changes the ethnic makeup of an entire country.

The cover of this November 1956 issue of True Adventures is great by itself, but as a bonus readers are treated inside to a photo feature on superstar Anita Ekberg, who had been filming the adventure flick Zarak Khan. The movie concerned the exploits of an Afghani outlaw (or resistance fighter, depending on one’s point of view), and Ekberg, rather amusingly, played an Afghani girl named Salma. Criticisms were voiced concerning the blue-eyed Swede’s casting in the role, but these rang hollow, considering the presence of Kentucky-born Victor Mature in the lead. In any case, the film’s producers Irving Allen and Cubby Broccoli didn’t care if Ekberg made an unlikely Afghan—to them having her shimmy around in a midriff-baring harem outfit was worth it. Were they right? You can be the judge of that for yourself by checking this link.

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Vintage Pulp Oct 11 2013
X AND THE CITY
There’s just no escaping the past.

This understated but great poster was made for the Swedish release of Robert Siodmak’s film noir Cry of the City, which starred Victor Mature. In Sweden it was retitled Ond stad, which means “vicious city,” and in getting across that idea we like how the art positions Mature atop an X, or perhaps a crossroads, which we guess represents his presence at the center of a clash of difficult circumstances. This is a great movie that we talked about in detail back in 2009, and today we’re reiterating that it’s one to see. It opened in Sweden today in 1948. 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 15 2013
SHANGHAI SURPRISE
Westerners undone yet again by the inscrutable Chinee.


The Shanghai Gesture is a movie we were excited to see. It’s a Josef von Sternberg directed vehicle adapted from a John Colton play (though neutered due to Hays Code worries), with Gene Tierney starring alongside Victor Mature, Walter Huston, Ona Munson, and Phyllis Brooks. Von Sternberg makes almost fetishistic use of his main asset—the luscious Tierney—by showing her in such extreme close-up you’d almost think it’s her breath fogging the lens, rather than one of the diffusion filters mid-century filmmakers utilized to shoot their female stars. A few minutes after she appears, as she observes the decadent tableau inside a Shanghai casino, she pulls out this line: “The place smells evil, like a place where anything can happen.” We’d suggest that if a place smells evil, something already happened. Blame the nearest person. Or the dog. Anyway, when Tierney makes her observation we understand pretty quickly that it’s going to be about her, a flower of Western purity, and her headlong descent into Oriental flooziedom.

All well and good, but the filmmakers fall prey to the type of easy characterizations that the best movies of the period were learning to avoid. When you observe, for example, the mostly respectful depiction of a character like Sam in 1942’s Casablanca, it becomes difficult not to cringe at such excesses here as Ona Munson's Chinese character MotherGin Sling entering rooms to the sound of a gong, or Walter Huston’s Sir Guy Charteris—a supposed old hand in Asia—querying Mike Mazurky with, “You speakee Chinee? Cantonee? You breakee window?” Did Westerners in China back then really say things like that? We’re dying to know. Mazurky gets the last line in the film, tossing off a smug echo of one of Huston’s earlier questions, and at that moment he’s a sort of stand-in for all Shanghai, which by now we know is a place where white people meet their ruin, but still—“You speakee Chinee?” The unintentional humor of such moments undermines the believability of the entire enterprise.

Another problem for us is that Victor Mature comes across as singularly unappealing. He’s not supposed to be a nice guy, but depriving him of any shred of charm makes it hard to believe Tierney would desire him. In any case, the script requires this and other indignities of poor Gene, and soon her fall from grace is so complete she even loses her mellifluous upper class accent and starts braying like a donkey. Yes, there’s some good here. Tierney is spellbindingly beautiful (one reason so many people thinkthis movie is better than it really is, we suspect). Some of the interiors are excellent, especially Mother Gin Sling’s baroque circular casino. A couple of the set pieces are striking, such as when young women are hoisted in baskets above a crowd of men clambering to buy them for their flower boats—i.e., floating brothels. And Huston is solid in his portrayal of Charteris. But all in all, The Shanghai Gesture is strictly so-so.

Incidentally, the movie is widely labeled a film noir, but it really isn’t. Yes, it can be difficult to say definitively whether a film fits into a certain category because “genre” is a nebulous concept to begin with, but we submit that this one is well off the mark, no more a noir than is The Lost Weekend, or for that matter Casablanca. If we’d known in advance it was a run-of-the-mill melodrama—yes, an exotic one, but also clunky and unengaging—we would not have expected the cutting cynicism and visual wit that characterize so many film noirs. If you go into it expecting something more along the lines of a B-picture, then The Shanghai Gesture might entertain. But whatever you expect, don’t think you're goingto see von Sternberg or Tierney doing their best work. At top you see the original American promo poster, and below that some production photos. The Shanghai Gesture premiered in New York City on Christmas 1941, and went into national release today in 1942.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 29 2009
WHEN THUGS CRY
In noir you can run but you can’t hide.

You can’t explore film noir without getting acquainted with director Robert Siodmak. We mentioned him before when we showed you the Swedish promo art for his great film The Killers, and today we have the U.S. poster for his also brilliant Cry of the City. The story involves two friends who both grew up in good families, but ended up on opposite sides of the law—one as a cop, the other as a criminal. Victor Mature plays the cop, and we have to say, we wish he hadn’t gone on to do all those sword and sandal epics, because we kept picturing him covered with bronzer, splitting Philistines’ heads with the jawbone of an ass. But his performance here is good, a perfect counterbalance to the intense Richard Conte’s ailing crook, who opens the film wounded in a hospital bed. Conte eventually escapes to track down the real perpetrator of a jewel heist the police have pinned on him. After a few twists and turns, he finds the real thief, but in noir, you can't buy off fate even with a last act of selflessness. Conte is still a bad man, and he's still gotta pay the piper. Cry of the City premiered in the U.S today in 1948. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
December 22
1972—Plane Crash Victims Found in Andes
The Chilean Air force locates fourteen survivors from a plane that had crashed in the Argentine Andes two months earlier. Four days after the rescue, a Santiago, Chile newspaper alleges that the survivors became cannibals to ward off starvation. The surviving group confirms that they ate human flesh at a press conference two days later.
December 21
1958—de Gaulle Elected President of France
World War II hero General Charles de Gaulle is elected President of France by an overwhelming majority. During his time he leads France to develop nuclear weapons, ends the French presence in Algeria, and survives several assassination attempts. He eventually retires to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, in north-east France, and dies from a heart attack on 9 November 1970.
December 20
1989—U.S. Invades Panama
The United States invades Panama with the goal of overthrowing the dictatorship of Manuel Noriega. Noriega had been a CIA agent for many years, and because of this special status, U.S. drug authorities had turned a blind eye toward his activities, which included helping to create a crack cocaine epidemic in American inner cities. In 1988, Senator John Kerry's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations concluded that the Noriega saga represented one of the most serious foreign policy failures in U.S. history.

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