The tune tells the whole tale.
We love when the opening song of a movie tells you everything you need to know about the main character. Wicked Woman stars legendary b-movie femme fatale Beverly Michaels, and here are some choice lines from the intro theme, sung by crooner Herb Jeffries:
Why is a wicked woman a fascinating game,
a thing a good man just can't leave alone?
You know before you start it you'll end up broken hearted,
but still you're like a moth to flame.
What does a wicked woman have burning in her eyes
that casts you in a spell you can't escape?
You know that what she's doin' is sure to cause your ruin
and still you listen to her lies...
Wicked Woman is pure cheeseball melodrama, but it's important because it established the icy cold Michaels blueprint that was copied in later movies—the lure, the scam, and the betrayal, all done unrepentantly. Michaels' fame derives not from acting ability, but from screen presence—i.e. she had that special it needed to play a femme fatale. In fact she's so bad you kind of root for her. Wicked Woman premiered in the U.S. today in 1953, and you can watch the whole thing at this link.
Nobody messes with Mara.
Mara Corday appears above in a promo photo for the film noir Girls on the Loose, which she headlines as the owner of nightclub that's a front for her all-woman crime ring. It sounds interesting, so we'll try and track that one down. The photo dates from 1958.
The real counterfeit is the film.
Southside 1-1000, which premiered today in 1950, is a crime drama in documentary style about the U.S. Secret Service chasing counterfeiters. It opens with narrated propaganda about the free world (the U.S.) fighting the enslaved world (commies), complete with Korea combat footage. The narration then morphs into a paean to the U.S. dollar before finally setting the stage for a story about a wave of funny money originating from a California prison. Any plot nuance is overshadowed by b-level acting, along with the voiceover and its message—that the Secret Service is holy and the dollar is noble. One character even corrects his minister, who had said in his sermon that money is the root of all evil. “But that isn't what Paul said in his epistle to Timothy,” this sad sack intones. “He said love of money is the root of all evil.” Is there really a distinction there? Semantically, yes. Realistically, no.
But at least the movie is honest about its intentions—to indoctrinate, with entertainment a distant secondary consideration. As with all older films, reviews on Southside 1-1000 are generally positive. But that's due to what we call the flickering celluloid effect—any old film will seduce certain viewers by virtue of the inherent romance of its setting. All those old cars. Those elegant dresses. And the hats! One thing we try to do here at Pulp Intl. is be nostalgic (for an era we never lived through, but whatever) while avoiding being blinded by it. Yes, popular movies were, in our opinion, generally better back then, but the percentage of debacles was, objectively, still fairly high. Southside 1-1000 has a single redeeming sequence—a fight involving an overpass, a speeding train, and a villain the audience isn't sure is a villain until late in the film. Otherwise, it's a turkey, but with promo art worth sharing anyway.
When your number is up it's up.
Dial 1119 is a simple film noir with a similar set-up as 1948's Key Largo—i.e. a criminal holds a barful of people hostage. This particular bar, called the Oasis, is in the fictional metropolis Terminal City. While the movie is simple it isn't one-note. We meet each of the characters earlier in the day, before they've gone to the Oasis to be terrorized, and they're an interesting mix—a newspaperman, a barfly, a cheating wife, an expectant father, and more. The man who holds them is a full-blown psychopath, a conscienceless killer, and the main plot question is whether he'll make Terminal City literal for the entire group by simply exterminating them all. Sure looks like it most of the time. This is a tidy flick, satisfying like a snack rather than a meal, well worth consuming. As a side note, you may find it interesting that the Oasis has the world's first wall mounted flatscreen television. It isn't real—the filmmakers bring it to life with projection fx. But we love that they even thought of it. Dial 1119 premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.
Worse comes to worst in a dusty western town.
We told you the film was on the slate. When we noticed its premier date was right around the corner we watched it immediately after finishing Hell Hath No Fury. First order of business—the poster and tagline are terrible. It shows how easy it can be for a studio to screw up both. The text tells you The Hot Spot is a film noir, but the triptych style art provides no compelling imagery. Worse, you don't see Don Johnson clearly, though as a huge television star thanks to Miami Vice he was the movie's greatest asset. And you don't see Jennifer Connelly at all, who even back then was one of Hollywood's most beautiful women. Posters are seen before they're read, and the visuals here give no reason to examine further. We grade it a major fail.
But what of the film? Well, it got generally good reviews, but the public never turned up to see it. Johnson is nicely cast as the drifter/grifter Harry Madox, so he isn't to blame. Jennifer Connelly and Virginia Madsen were less known, but as supporting characters they more than did their part. Other modern noirs had performed well in cinemas, so it's not the style of The Hot Spot that hurt it. The direction from Dennis Hopper sticks reasonably close to the novel, and he gets the overheated small town atmosphere right, so we'll give him a pass too. Most likely the studio simply didn't make an effective push behind the movie—a theory backed up by the bad poster.
But The Hot Spot holds up well these years later. Some might find Madsen's honeydripping femme fatale improbable, but she's channelling both the source material and classic noirs. Other viewers probably doubted a nineteen-year-old Connelly could develop feelings for a Johnson on the far side of forty, but it happens. People who doubt that just haven't spent enough time in the real world. In the film the age difference does not go unaddressed. Johnson's feelings for his inappropriate crush prompt him to act against his best interests. Whether he pays a price hangs less on his cunning than on chance. Or perhaps it hangs on someone else's cunning—that's where the best femmes fatales always come in. The Hot Spot premiered in the U.S. today in 1990.
Say hello to my little agent.
This film noir style Universal Pictures promo image shows Paris born Andrea King, whose given name was Georgette André Barry, but who lived only briefly in France before her mother brought her to the U.S. We just saw her in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, but we really remember her best for her role in a great but obscure film noir called Ride the Pink Horse. She also appeared in Shadow of a Woman, Dial 1119, Southside 1-1000, and—we love this last one—Blackenstein. The above shot showing her in take charge mode is from 1949.
Theft becomes death in the blink of an eye.
Last week we shared a brilliant Italian poster for Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, and today you see the French and Belgian posters. The title is a double entendre that refers not only to murder but also to killing in the sense of a big score, which is why in France the movie was called L'ultime razzia, or “the last raid,” and in Belgium it was Coup manqué, which translates as “mis-hit,” as in badly striking a ball—i.e. missing a target. The Belgian poster also has a banner at the bottom with the title in Dutch—Mislukte opzet, or “failed set up.” Those titles, taken together, reveal exactly what happens in the film—a robbery goes terribly wrong. Both of these are very nice posters, fitting ror Kubrick's early masterpiece. The Killing opened in France today in 1956, and in Belgium shortly thereafter.
If you think armed robbery is tough try surviving as a poster artist.
Rapina a mano armata is a title that would translate as “armored rampage,” but the movie being promoted by these spectacular Italian posters is actually none other than Stanley Kubrick's famed thriller The Killing. After debuting in the U.S. and Britain in early 1956, it opened in Italy today that same year. We discussed the film in detail a while ago. If you take a look at that post you'll immediately notice that once again the foreign promo art destroys the U.S. version. This is consistently true for most movies made after the mid-1960s because the studios began to jettison top notch promo artists in favor of simpler—and we assume cheaper—visual approaches. The foreign companies would follow suit, but not until later. European posters began to lose their pizzazz by the 1970s, and Japanese promos went the same direction by the early 1980s. Which leaves us where we are today—besieged by Photoshop jobs, all of which seem to feature a couple of large heads against some uninspiring background.
But we're here at least partly to celebrate the glories of vintage art, which means what you really want to know is who painted these particular masterpieces, right? It was Renato Casaro, whose work is consistently amazing. In fact he was so good that he survived as an illustrator well into the 1980s, painting iconic promos for the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicles Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja, and somewhat less iconic but no less brilliant posters for Sylvester Stallone's Cliffhanger and Over the Top. The Rapina a mano armata poster you see below is unsigned but we can be reasonably sure it was also a product of Casaro's hand, as it was common practice in Italy's movie industry for the commissioned artist to produce more than one version. If the above pieces aren't the best we've seen from Casaro they're sure close. You can see several more of his efforts by clicking his keywords below.
Whoa... is the floor swaying or is that me?
Audrey Totter isn't as well known today as she should be, considering she appeared in The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Lady in the Lake, F.B.I Girl, The Unsuspected, The Set-Up, Main Street After Dark, and Tension, but she was well appreciated in her day as a bad girl and film noir stalwart. Her career spanned radio, cinema, and television, and her life spanned ninety-five years, a good run on both counts. This promo photo of her in the typical bad girl's natural habitat—the local gin mill—was made in 1946 and appeared in Life magazine.
Why did Lancaster cross the mob? To get to DeCarlo's side.
This is a beautiful poster for Doppio Gioco, better known as the U.S. film noir Criss Cross, with Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo. We were unable to determine who painted the piece, but it's a bang-up job. As for the movie, Burt Lancaster comes up with one of the classic terrible ideas in film noir history, and that's really saying something, because the genre practically hinges on cockamamie schemes. We talk about it in our brief write-up of the film here. Doppio Gioco opened In Italy today in 1949.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1911—Team Reaches South Pole
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, along with his team Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting, becomes the first person to reach the South Pole. After a celebrated career, Amundsen eventually disappears in 1928 while returning from a search and rescue flight at the North Pole. His body is never found.
1944—Velez Commits Suicide
Mexican actress Lupe Velez, who was considered one of the great beauties
of her day, commits suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. In her note, Velez says she did it to avoid bringing shame on her unborn child by giving birth to him out of wedlock, but many Hollywood historians believe bipolar disorder was the actual cause. The event inspired a 1965 Andy Warhol film entitled Lupe
1958—Gordo the Monkey Lost After Space Flight
After a fifteen minute flight into space on a Jupiter AM-13 rocket, a monkey named Gordo splashes down in the South Pacific but is lost after his capsule sinks. The incident sparks angry protests from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but NASA says animals are needed for such tests.
1968—Tallulah Bankhead Dies
American actress, talk show host, and party girl
Tallulah Bankhead, who was fond of turning cartwheels in a dress without underwear and once made an entrance to a party without a stitch of clothing on, dies in St. Luke's Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia complicated by emphysema.
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