Vintage Pulp Jan 30 2016
MAKING A MURDERER
Nice guys finish last—until they're pushed too far.


The 1945 film noir Scarlet Street is one of the bleaker offerings from a generally bleak genre. Edward G. Robinson plays an aspiring painter in a loveless marriage whose need makes him a perfect mark for a pair of hustlers, played by Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, who shake him down for money, a free apartment, and even his recognition as an artist. The main treat here is seeing tough guy Robinson play a mild-mannered everyman, the sort of terminal pushover he also portrayed to great effect in the noir The Woman in the Window. The thing is, some people can only take so much abuse.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 29 2016
MAN ON THE EDGE
The Big Knife could be sharper but its lessons about Hollywood ruthlessness resonate.


Above you see a poster for the 1955 drama The Big Knife, which, along with The Bad and the Beautiful, plays on tonight’s dark-side-of-Hollywood double bill at the Noir City Film Festival. Based on Clifford Odets’ play of the same name, The Big Knife tells the story of a star actor who wants to expand artistically, but is being tormented by his studio boss to ink a new deal locking him into more of the unfulfilling schlock that put him on the map. The studio has leverage because it helped the actor—played by Jack Palance—hide his role in causing a fatal car accident years ago. The studio boss—Rod Stieger, shamelessly hamming up the place (see photo below)—will stop at nothing, including blackmail, to get the contract signed. The stage-based origins of The Big Knife are clear, as the action rarely leaves one room and the dialogue is at times florid, but the question of whether Palance has the constitution to stand up to Stieger’s abuse offers some tension, and Ida Lupino as Palance’s wife helps elevate the exercise. Above average, we’d call this one, but we think festivalgoers will like The Bad and the Beautiful a lot better.


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Femmes Fatales Jan 29 2016
STRAIGHT SHOOTER
Nothing to fear but Greer herself.


This awesome promo photo comes from Jacques Tourneur’s iconic 1947 film noir Out of the Past, in which Jane Greer plays Kathie Moffat, one of history’s greatest femmes fatales. Here she watches Robert Mitchum and Steve Brodie in a fistfight, planning all along to decide the situation with a bullet.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 28 2016
ALL OF MIMI
Ekberg as a stripper is a dream come true but she brings a nightmare with her.


Based on a 1949 novel of the same name by Frederic Brown, Screaming Mimi stars Anita Ekberg as a traumatized burlesque dancer who can’t shake the memory of being attacked by a knife-wielding maniac. She’s committed to a mental institution, where her psychiatrist promptly falls in love with her and helps her escape and create a new identity. Now dancing at a club in Laguna Beach, California, she’s the hottest draw in the area and her former doctor is her lover and protector, but also smothers and dominates her. Can the anonymity last? Of course not.

Enter stage right an entitled horndog who won’t take no for an answer. After Ekberg survives another knife attack the horndog—who’s also a reporter—has all the justification he needs to dog Ekberg’s every step, and the doctor tries to protect her fake identity and keep her and the reporter from falling into bed together. Chances of success? Zero. Screaming Mimi is an interesting noir—it was fertile enough to serve as inspiration for Dario Argento’s L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo, aka The Bird with the Crystal Plumage—but its b-movie budget really shows and we think Philip Carey is miscast as the reporter/hero. Carey has no charm at all in this, which renders Ekberg’s interest in him unbelievable. But his performance will be a treat for patrons of the Noir City fest—most will probably remember him from his twenty-four-year stint as the repulsive Asa Buchanan on the soap opera One Life To Live.


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Vintage Pulp Jan 27 2016
TORTURED ARTISTS
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.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 26 2016
SHOCK CORRIDOR
The moment you doubt is the moment it stops being real.


Corridor of Mirrors is fascinating movie, though not one everyone will appreciate. There’s an actual corridor of mirrors, and it’s a place of infinite reflections and madness, located in the sprawling mansion of man, played by Eric Portman, who believes he’s the reincarnation of someone who lived four-hundred years ago. As they say, when you’re rich you’re not crazy—you’re merely eccentric. The problem, though, is that Portman believes he was in love with a woman way back then, and that she has been reincarnated too, in the person of Edana Romney. This is very interesting work from a director—Terrence Young—who would go on to helm three James Bond movies (trivia: Lois Maxwell, the original Miss Moneypenny, makes an appearance here, as does future Hammer horror icon and Tolkien baddie Christopher Lee). 

Perhaps the most successful element of Corridor of Mirrors is how the audience is dragged into the lead’s carefully constructed fantasy world. The film takes place in modern (1948) times, but by midway through, it has become a Renaissance period piece, as the camera rambles through Portman’s foreboding mansion where nary a lamp or electrical convenience of any sort is found. The use of candles is particularly effective when Portman unveils a painting of his centuries-old love—gasp!—she looks exactly like Romney. Well, maybe not so shocking, but the appearance of a flashlight late in the proceedings is actually shocking, as it’s a reminder that the previous hour has been spent inside the Neverland of a madman.

Is Corridor of Mirrors a film noir? Not even. It’s been placed on a double bill at Noir City with the stylistically similar The Picture of Dorian Gray, but noir fans might be disappointed to have bought tickets for this particular night. In fact, this year's festival features a high proportion of non-noir cinema—ten of the offerings aren't film noir, and arguably even a couple more fall outside the category. Still, Corridor of Mirrors is a nice melodrama, dripping with irony by the end, and worth seeing on its own merits. A British production, it seems as though no English language posters survive, so at top you see the nice promo from its run in Belgium, where it was called L’etrange rendezvous.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 25 2016
BOGART THE BUZZKILL
He's the guy who always ruins the party.


Bogart has an anger problem. You know someone just like him. He claims to be unaffected by the human condition and would have you believe all others are weaklings and he is strong. But of course when things don't go his way he flies into a rage, showing that he's actually frailer than most. Indifference and anger—two sides of the same coin for those unable to cope with the world as it is. When a female acquaintance of Bogart's is murdered his uncaring attitude makes the cops suspect he's a killer. Did he do it? Maybe—he's too indifferent to bother convincing the police otherwise. But when he meets his beautiful neighbor Gloria Grahame and the two become involved we see his defense mechanism fall away and be replaced by a renewed interest in life. Grahame becomes the receptacle for all Bogart's hopes, but can she deal with that level of need? More to the point—should she? Critics liked Bogart in this role at the time, and In a Lonely Place is today considered one of the best noirs. We have to agree. It's a psychological study of a personality type that has probably proliferated in America since 1950, which makes it relevant viewing in 2016. Highly recommended.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 25 2016
TWICE SHY
If at first you don't succeed.


We watched The Two Mrs. Carrolls with the Pulp Intl. girlfriends, which is a shame because years of work trying to get them to like old films was finally bearing fruit, only to be partly undone by this one. Whereas In a Lonely Place is one of Bogart's best, The Two Mrs. Carrolls is one of his worst—which should make for an interesting double bill at Noir City tonight. There are problems in most elements of this film, but the main saboteur is the script, adapted by Thomas Job from Martin Vale’s 1935 play of the same name. Structurally, it has some problematic loose threads, and in terms of plot progression, relying upon a child to impart several pieces of crucial information to the heroine all at once all during a casual conversation is not a good move for a suspense movie. Having Barbara Stanwyck find the entire murder scheme outlined on a piece of notebook paper would have been less contrived. Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogart, and Alexis Smith give it a spirited go, but they can overcome only so much. At least the movie looks great. Credit director Peter Godfrey for that much, with a big assist from cinematographer J. Peverell Marley.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 24 2016
VIRTUOSO REALITY
Romance between two musical geniuses hits a few unexpected sour notes.


Classical musicians separated during the chaos of World War II are reunited in New York City, but the woman neglects to mention to her fiancée that she's acquired a lover and sugar daddy who happens to be a world renowned composer. Bette Davis gives a confident turn as a gifted and successful pianist, while Paul Henreid as her cellist fiancée and Claude Rains as the jilter lover are both excellent. The latter two actors also featured in Casablanca, and Deception bears some similarities to that earlier film in two ways—Henreid is lost during war and presumed dead, leading his love to turn to another; Rains is a caustic smartass, something he does really well.
 
Another aspect of Deception we enjoyed was how much work went into making Davis and Henried perform like master musicians. In Davis’s case, she fakes it on piano just long enough to pass the eye test, while Henreid had a hidden cellist insert his arms through a modified jacket and play the parts blind. It’s an, um, deceptively simple solution that worked perfectly. Deception didn’t perform well at the box office when released in 1946, but time has been kind to it, and criticisms have waned. At the very least you may want to watch it to get a gander at Davis’s spectacular loft apartment.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 23 2016
TIGHT SPOT
No place to run, no place to hide.


Today the Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco will be screening The Dark Corner, a movie that starts fast and keeps up a quick pace throughout, telling the story of small-time detective who is tormented and eventually framed by an unknown enemy. The script, which is credited to five writers, is filled with fun jargon and treats viewers to one of the better quotes from film noir when Mark Stevens references the title with, “I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner and I don’t know who’s hitting me.”

Lucille Ball, top-billed, is pitch perfect as Stevens’ secretary, love interest, and driving force, and William Bendix, who made a career out of tough-and-volatile, nails his role even more solidly than usual here. You also get good work from Clifton Webb and femme fatale Cathy Downs. Atypically violent, and brilliantly wrapped in shadows and cut by black silhouettes by director Henry Hathaway and director of photography Joseph MacDonald, The Dark Corner is what watching film noir is all about. Favorite line: after a character is pushed thirty-one floors to his death a witness on the street gestures at a high window and remarks to a policeman, “Brother, he came out of there like a hot rivet. You know it’s a funny thing, I never yet seen one of those guys bounce.” A must-see. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
February 14
1929—Seven Men Shot Dead in Chicago
Seven people, six of them gangster rivals of Al Capone's South Side gang, are machine gunned to death in Chicago, Illinois, in an event that would become known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Because two of the shooters were dressed as police officers, it was initially thought that police might have been responsible, but an investigation soon proved the killings were gang related. The slaughter exceeded anything yet seen in the United States at that time.
February 13
1935—Jury Finds Hauptmann Guilty
A jury in Flemington, New Jersey finds Bruno Hauptmann guilty of the 1932 kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby, the son of Charles Lindbergh. Hauptmann is sentenced to death and executed in 1936. For decades, his widow Anna, fights to have his named cleared, claiming that Hauptmann did not commit the crime, and was instead a victim of prosecutorial misconduct, but her claims are ultimately dismissed in 1984 after the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to address the case.
February 12
1961—Soviets Launch Venus Probe
The U.S.S.R. launches the spacecraft Venera 1, equipped with scientific instruments to measure solar wind, micrometeorites, and cosmic radiation, towards planet Venus. The craft is the first modern planetary probe. Among its many achievements, it confirms the presence of solar wind in deep space, but overheats due to the failure of a sensor before its Venus mission is completed.
1994—Thieves Steal Munch Masterpiece
In Oslo, Norway, a pair of art thieves steal one of the world's best-known paintings, Edvard Munch's "The Scream," from a gallery in the Norwegian capital. The two men take less than a minute to climb a ladder, smash through a window of the National Art Museum, and remove the painting from the wall with wire cutters. After a ransom demand the museum refuses to pay, police manage to locate the panting in May, and the two thieves, as well as two accomplices, are arrested.

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