Hollywoodland Jul 22 2018
DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN
Rumors of her demise were greatly exaggerated.


We've featured the Canadian tabloid Midnight numerous times. This one appeared on newsstands today in 1968. On the cover readers get a headline referring to Robert F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated the previous month. His name is accompanied by a prediction that his killer, Jordanian nationalist Sirhan Sirhan, would in turn be assassinated. It wasn't an outrageous prediction—during the late 1960s newsworthy figures were being dropped like three foot putts. Sirhan was never murdered, though, and he's still around today, languishing at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, California.

Sirhan is an interesting character, but it's the story on Susan Denberg we're interested in today. Denberg, née Dietlinde Zechner, is a German born beauty who became a Playboy Playmate of the Year and screen actress, was a desired Hollywood party girl who had relationships with Hugh Hefner and Jim Brown, and was generally regarded as one of the major sex symbols of her time. But she also became a drug addict. After making the 1968 film Frankenstein Created Woman Denberg returned to Europe and shunned the movie business. In fact, she kept such a low profile that for years sources incorrectly reported that she had died.

Midnight journo John Wilson claims to have visited Denberg in a Vienna mental hospital near the beginning of her self-imposed exile, and his article is basically a recounting of his chat with her. He describes her depressing surroundings and portrays her as a sort of broken bird, quoting her as saying, “I was a real party girl, going out every night, dating one man after another, running around doing wild things like getting drunk and dancing nude at parties. And then someone got me started on LSD and it made everything seem so clear. It was wonderful. Only I couldn't keep away from it, and after a while that was all I was doing, staying in my room and dropping LSD.”

In 1971 Denberg had a child, and by 1972 was making her living on the nudie bar circuit, working as a topless server at the adult cinema Rondell in Vienna, and later dancing fully nude at another Vienna nightspot called Renz. She also worked elsewhere in Europe, including Geneva, where in 1974 she tried to commit suicide by swallowing a reported 200 sleeping pills, an amount that surely would have been fatal had she not been quickly found and sped to a hospital. In 1976 she became a mother again and retired from nude dancing. Today she lives quietly in Vienna.

Denberg's story is filled with twists and turns, and yet it isn't unique in a place like Hollywood. As she makes clear, once enough power brokers, modeling agents, and studio types tell a woman she's special she's probably going to believe them, but once she believes them it's hard for her to keep her head on straight. She sums up her journey to Midnight, “They told me I was beautiful enough to go all the way to the top. They told me about all the fun up there, the kicks. They never told me about the booze and the drugs, the long slide down.” 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 15 2013
PSYCH WARDH
Vice and virtue in Vienna.

So, quite by coincidence there’s another movie we watched recently that also premiered today, though thirty years later than The Shanghai Gesture (see below). The movie is Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh, which would translate as “The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh,” but was released in the U.S. as Blade of the Ripper. This flick is considered one of the best gialli ever made, and it’s tough to argue the point. It’s intricate, absorbing, unpredictable, colorful, and shot in an array of amazing external locations and inside one of the greatest mid-century modern apartments ever conceived. It also has Edwige Fenech, whose gifts are well known. Taking place mainly in Vienna and climaxing in Sitges, Spain (which happens to be one of our favorite towns in Europe)Signora Wardh is a tale of obssession and infidelity wrapped in a murder mystery. Mrs. Wardh does indeed have a strange vice, but that’s just window dressing. It’s her that’s being hunted throughout the movie—either by a serial killer, a demented ex-lover, or both. Or neither. They say that the only way to keep a secret is if no more than two people know it and one of them is dead. But the only way to commit murder is if the killer has an iron clad alibi, and for that he often needs help. Rule one conflicts with rule two, and that’s the fun of Signora Wardh. Above you see a rare and wonderful Italian promo poster painted by Giuliano Nistri, the younger brother of equally talented Enzo Nistri. We'll get back to both Nistri brothers a little later. Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh opened in Italy today in 1971.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 3 2010
VIENNESE WALTZ
The Third Man is a stiff drink, with a twist of Lime.

The 1949 film noir The Third Man is a best-case-scenario of what can happen when great talents collaborate. Carol Reed directs, Orson Welles, Alida Valli and Joseph Cotten act from a screenplay penned by master storyteller Graham Greene, and the cinematographer is Robert Krasker. Krasker won an Academy Award for his work here, and when you see the velvety blacks and knifing shadows of his nighttime set-ups, as well as the famed scenes shot in the cavernous Vienna sewers and bombed out quadrants of the city center, you’ll understand why. The story involves a pulp writer named Holly Martins who arrives in a partitioned post-war Vienna only to find that his friend Harry Lime is dead, run down by a truck. When Martins learns that the police are disinterested in the circumstances of Lime’s demise, he decides to do what one of his pulp characters would do—take matters into his own hands. But nothing adds up. He learns that Lime died instantly, or survived long enough to utter a few last words. He finds that Lime was a racketeer, or possibly not. And he discovers that two men were present when Lime died—or possibly three. That third man seems to be the key to the mystery, but he proves to be damnably elusive. We can’t recommend this film highly enough. Above you see a pair of rare Japanese posters from The Third Man’s premiere in Tokyo today in 1952. 

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Vintage Pulp Feb 15 2010
A MOVEABLE BEAST
You can run from your past, but you can’t hide.

Liliana Cavani’s controversial drama Il portiere di notte, aka The Night Porter, is a landmark of Italian cinema, and another of those seventies films that could never be made today. It involves the sado-masochistic relationship between a concentration camp survivor, played by Charlotte Rampling, and a former camp officer, played by Dirk Bogarde. The camp is eventually liberated, but the Nazi manages to escape the Allies. Postwar he builds a normal-seeming life but must carefully hide his former identity. Meanwhile, the woman builds a normal-seeming marriage, but conceals her psychological scars. In Vienna years later, the woman is shocked to encounter the Nazi again, and soon their destructive codependency is rekindled. The amazing promo poster above uses a frame from the movie’s pivotal scene, a flashback in which Rampling performs a striptease wearing an SS uniform, after which her captor rewards her á la Salomé with the head of a prisoner who has been tormenting her. Il portiere di notte is dark, slow, and deadly serious, but for the true film buff it’s probably a must-see. It was generally well-reviewed upon release, but there were also slams from a few major critics. In the end, you’ll have to make your own decision. Il portiere di notte premiered in West Germany yesterday, 1974. 

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Vintage Pulp May 31 2009
THEN LISSY
East German anti-Nazi drama is considered a classic.


Here’s a nice Romanian promo poster for the anti-Nazi drama Lissy, starring Sonia Sutter, and based on a novel by Franz Carl Weiskopf. The film was made in East Germany, and against all odds, earned an American release and brought Sutter a measure of critical acclaim. She eventually acted in more than twenty films, but is better remembered for her distinguished four-decade career at the famous Burgtheater in Vienna. Lissy premiered in East Berlin yesterday in 1957.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
November 18
1916—First Battle of the Somme Ends
In France, British Expeditionary Force commander Douglas Haig calls off a battle against entrenched German troops which had begun on July 1, 1916. Known as the Battle of the Somme, this action resulted in one of the greatest losses of life in modern history—over three-hundred thousand dead for a net gain of about seven miles of land.
1978—Jonestown Cult Commits Mass Suicide
In the South American country of Guyana, Jim Jones leads his Peoples Temple cult in a mass suicide that claims 918 lives, including over 270 children. Congressman Leo J. Ryan, who had been visiting the makeshift cult complex known as Jonestown to investigate claims of abuse, is shot by members of the Peoples Temple as he tries to escape from a nearby airfield with several cult members who asked for his protection.
November 17
1973—Nixon Proclaims His Innocence
While in Orlando, Florida, U.S. President Richard Nixon tells four-hundred Associated Press managing editors, "I am not a crook." The false statement comes to symbolize Nixon's presidency when facts are uncovered that prove he is, indeed, a crook.
November 16
1938—Lysergic Acid Diethylamide Created
In Basel, Switzerland, at the Sandoz Laboratories, chemist Albert Hofmann creates the psychedelic compound Lysergic acid diethylamide, aka LSD, from a grain fungus.
1945—German Scientists Secretly Brought to U.S.
In a secret program codenamed Operation Paperclip, the United States Army admits 88 German scientists and engineers into the U.S. to help with the development of rocket technology. President Harry Truman ordered that Paperclip exclude members of the Nazi party, but in practice many Nazis who had been officially classified as dangerous were also brought to the U.S. after their backgrounds were whitewashed by Army officials.
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