Intl. Notebook Aug 13 2014
LAST BACALL
Slipping into darkness.

Lauren Bacall appears here in what may be her most famous publicity image, gazing from the darkness with a knowing, mischievous, heavy-lidded look she made her trademark in The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and To Have and Have Not, three films that were a sort of informal trifecta of film noir. She also appeared in Key Largo, less a noir than a melodrama, but still excellent. All co-starred Humphrey Bogart, who she married in the middle of this run of films and remained married to until his death in 1957. Bacall joins him more than half a century later, aged eighty-nine.

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Hollywoodland May 26 2014
DARK COMPANION
He wasn’t very tall, but he cast a long shadow.

Above, Humphrey Bogart in a promo shot from 1941’s High Sierra, a movie that examines the futility of greed and violence (at least for those with no power or connections). It was more or less the fortieth film Bogart had made, and further cemented his bankability before he truly broke out as a leading man later the same year with The Maltese Falcon. Also, you can once again thank W.R. Burnett—he wrote the novel and collaborated on the screenplay.

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Femmes Fatales Mar 24 2014
DOW WOW
The eyes of March.

Peggy Dow was born Margaret Josephine Varnadow in March 1928 and came to widespread notice in her second feature, the film noir Undertow. She had earned a seven-year contract with Universal International Pictures and it’s certain they thought they had a big star on their hands, but after three years in movies she abruptly quit to marry an Oklahoma oilman and settled into family life and motherhood. She may not be well remembered today, but we’re pretty sure this promo photo will stick in the mind. It was made in 1949. 

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Vintage Pulp Feb 18 2014
A HARD DAY'S NIGHTMARE
Have you ever had a terrible dream and couldn’t wake up?


This West German poster for Der Scharlatan, aka Nightmare Alley shows Twentieth Century Fox pretty boy Tyrone Power in his role as The Great Stanton, a conniving psychic. Power felt constricted by the romance and adventure parts he’d played up to that point, so he bought the rights to William Lindsay Gresham’s novel and dirtied himself up. He plays a lowly carnival barker who realizes that an ingenious verbal code is the key to reaching the heights of fame. The code allows a seer to work in tandem with an assistant to correctly answer the questions of spectators. You know the drill: “I’m sensing that there’s a Mr. Abernathy here and he’s... wait… it’s coming… Sir, you’re concerned about your wife’s health. Isn’t that right? Well let me tell you, she’s already on the mend. You’ll get good news from the doctor tomorrow!” Though the code’s owners aren’t using it, they plan to sell it to fund their retirement, and that looks to be some years off. This forces Power to either to steal it or sweet talk his way into it. As it turns out, he doesn’t have to do either, but once he has the code and has built an act around it, the fame and riches it brings fail to quench his greed.
 
Nightmare Alley was not warmly reviewed upon release, but many of those reviews simply found the movie too gritty. Such criticisms tend to make their authors look out of touch. For example, Bosley Crowther was demoted from his position as the New York Times’ main critic in large part for slamming Bonnie and Clyde in three separate articles, despite the film’s obvious quality. Nightmare Alley had similar detractors—it was just too downbeat for some, even for a film noir. But within its fictional milieu it's highly successful. Our world has every kind of depravityand cruelty, and movies that depict them must be judged on their own terms. So ignore the haters—Nightmare Alley is excellent. Power puts on an award-worthy performance, and Joan Blondell and Colleen Gray are great in support. There’s a pivotal moment in the film when it seems possible Power’s character has some actual psychic ability. Too bad he can’t see his own future. Nightmare Alley premiered in 1947, and finally made its way to West Germany today in 1954.
 
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Intl. Notebook Jan 24 2014
NOIR OF THE WORLD
San Francisco’s famed film festival goes international.

Living overseas is sometimes bittersweet. While the people, the food, the bars, the beaches, the lifestyle, and a hundred other aspects are wonderful, there are no film noir festivals (and no decent pizza, but that's another story). Anyway, today we’re sad not to still be living in the San Francisco Bay area because it’s the first day of the Noir City Film Festival. Ironically, this year’s version, the twelfth in the series, looks toward other countries and includes movies set in France, Britain, Mexico, Singapore, Macao, and more. The films, which screen at San Fran’s Castro Theatre, include The Third Man, Akira Kurosawa’s Yoidore tenshi, aka Drunken Angel, Jules Dassin’s Du rififi chez les homes, aka Rififi, and two dozen other films. All in all, a great collection. The photoillustrated poster art above (the first is the official promo and the second is the teaser that came out last year) is also pretty nice, though not up to the standard of previous years. But you can decide that for yourself—we’ve shared the entire run of Noir City posters and you can see those here.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 4 2013
THIEVES' HIGHWAY
Like an Oreo cookie, the best part of Highway 301 is the stuff in the middle.


Though we can’t find much online about the making of the 1950 b-budget film noir Highway 301, we have a suspicion what happened during its production. The studio holding the purse strings, Warner Bros., had a look at the rough cut and said there’s no way we’re putting out a movie this intense. How intense is it? Influential New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it “a straight exercise in low sadism.” So what does a studio do when it has on its hands a movie it thinks is likely to bad vibe audiences right out of the cinema? Simple—tell the audiences before the movie starts how it’s going to end. Get three sitting state governors— W. Kerr Scott of North Carolina, John S. Battle of Virginia, and William P. Lane, Jr. of Maryland—to announce in a prologue that crime does not pay, and that every member of the Tri-State Gang depicted in the movie ended up dead, except for one, who ended up in prison. Was Warner Bros. really responsible for such a blatant mutilation of Highway 301? It’s a very good bet, simply because a screenwriter can’t write a script that counts on the participation of three state governors. But for Jack Warner, well, all it would have taken was a phone call to each.

If you pretend the hamfisted prologue never happened, what you end up watching is one of the most underrated and entertaining noirs ever filmed. There are two robberies, a few shootouts, and other action pieces, but the intensity in this film is supplied by its unflinching exploration of the vagaries of fate. Taking an elevator rather than the stairs, choosing to hide rather than run, heading for the back exit rather than the front—it’s these decisions that determine the fortunes and misfortunes of the characters, and which gnaw at the nerves of an audience that knows which choice is right but can only watch events unfold. At the center of it all is Steve Cochran as the gang’s murderous leader, a guy who solves every problem with a gun. The supporting cast includes Virginia Grey, Gaby Andre, and Robert Webber, and all are good in their roles.
 
While we know the Tri-State Gang will lose in the end, there’s still plenty of suspense supplied by Gaby Andre’s predicament—she knows too much and the only reason she’s still alive is because Cochran thinks she’s beautiful. But the spell will soon wear off and at that point she’ll be just another dead witness—unless she can escape. Fate continues to intervene. Will it intercede on her behalf? Or against? We know not to anticipate her survival based on her status as the protagonist female. The body count has already told us movie convention is no refuge. That’s the genius of Highway 301—there’s no respite from tension. Every sigh of relief catches in the throat as peril mounts yet again.

Writer/director Andrew L. Stone deserves a lot of credit for putting this together. He was an experienced hand at this point, but never before had he created something so innovative. Highway 301 ends on a down note with more moralizing, but sandwiched in between is a highly recommendable drama. Flawed, yes, but only due to the intrusion of front office types, we suspect. A re-release without the moral parentheses and intermittent narration would elevate this to classic status. The poster at top is classic in its own right. It was painted by someone who signed it Aziz, and the Arabic script in the lower right corner confirms it was made for release in the Middle East or North Africa, most likely Egypt, but don’t quote us on that.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 2 2013
LAURA & DISORDER
Finnish poster skips the teasing and goes straight to the climax.

A while back we showed you the U.S. promo poster for the classic noir Laura. Today’s version comes from Finland, where the film was released today in 1945. December is a dark, chilly time in Finland, and Laura must have seemed an appropriate film, with its dark, spare story of a police detective who falls in love with a dead woman whose murder he’s investigating. The woman has been shotgunned in the face, and is personified in death by a beautiful portrait hanging over her mantel. The detective is completely baffled by the crime, but then a chance encounter brings everything into focus. If you haven’t seen the film, we recommend it highly. Gene Tierney is at her most icily beautiful, and Dana Andrews does good work as a man in love with a woman who no longer exists. Unfortunately, the poster art actually gives away who the killer is by using a photo-realistic portrayal of the actor brandishing a shotgun. Maybe it’s too small for you to see in this format, so we won’t say more. But what a spoiler for the Finns that the artist—he’s signed the work as R.X.Z.—made that choice, or was told to by the studio. It isn’t as if the actor wouldn’t have been immediately identifiable by them, since he was reasonably famous at the time and in the midst of carving out one of Hollywood’s greatest careers. Anyway, excellent movie. If you want to read more about it visit our original post here.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 11 2013
BERLIN WALL ART
 
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.
 

 
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Vintage Pulp Oct 20 2013
CAUGHT IN A CROSSFIRE
Robert Young tries to solve a murder that seems to have no motive.


Above is a Swedish poster for Edward Dmytryk’s Hämnden är rättvis, aka Crossfire, a really interesting film noir about an ex-soldier who is murdered, and his fellow ex-soldiers who are suspects. Police detective Robert Young tries to get to the bottom of the crime, but is increasingly baffled as he realizes the killing did not occur for any of the usual reasons—money, lust, revenge, etc. Different character recollections provide different information about the victim’s last hours, but only serve to underscore the apparent senselesslness of the crime. We can’t reveal the direction Young’s investigation turns without giving away the ending*, but we’ll mention that the movie won an award at Cannes—the Prix du meilleur film social, or Best Social Film.

Though technically and visually brilliant, as a whole we don’t think Crossfire has weathered as well as other noirs (for casual movie watchers it may be too static and talky). But it does have a bravura performance from Robert Ryan, and solid work from both Gloria Grahame and the always excellent Robert Mitchum. As far as the art is concerned, note the strong contrast between the Swedish version and the riotously colorful American ones, which we have below. Swedish film noir posters often de-emphasized color and used long lines to apportion space into several distinct boxes (as seen here, here, here, and here), but the above is one of the most severe examples we’ve found. Crossfire premiered in the U.S. in July 1947, and first played in Stockholm as Hämnden är rättvis today the same year.

*We’ve never worried about giving away endings before. Our capsule reviews are really just excuses to show the poster art and joke around. However, a few recent emails have revealed that some readers actually visit Pulp Intl. for viewing ideas, which just goes to show that after five years online you receive credibility whether you were looking for it or not. So even though recent scientific research shows that people enjoy stories more if they know the endings in advance, we’re going to be better about spoilers in the future. Promise.

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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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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
September 02
1967—Nation of Sealand Established
The Principality of Sealand, located on a platform in the North Sea, is established under the rule of Prince Paddy Roy Bates. Proving that paradise is a pipe dream as long as humans are involved, Sealand has already endured a coup, a war, and a hostage crisis since its formation.
1973—J.R.R. Tolkien Dies
British fantasy novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, dies at the age of 82.
September 01
1902—French Go to Moon
Georges Méliès' Le voyage dans la lune, aka A Trip to the Moon, is released in France. It is the first science-fiction film ever made.
1939—Germany Starts World War II
Nazi Germany, along with the Soviet Union and Slovakia, attack Poland, beginning the chain reaction that leads to war across Europe.
1972—Fischer Beats Spassky
In Reykjavík, Iceland, American Bobby Fischer beats Russian Boris Spassky and becomes the world chess champion. The match had been portrayed as a Cold War battle, and thus was a major propaganda victory for the United States.
August 31
1948—Mitchum and Leeds Snared in Drug Raid
Actor Robert Mitchum and actress Lila Leeds are arrested in a Hollywood drug raid and convicted of criminal conspiracy to possess marijuana. Mitchum serves 43 days in jail, but in 1951 the conviction is overturned when it is exposed as a set-up. The entire episode has zero effect on his popularity. Leeds, conversely, becomes a heroin addict while behind bars and is never able to rekindle her career.
1997—Princess Diana Killed in Accident
Princess Diana dies after a car crash in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris, along with Egyptian jet-setter Dodi Al-Fayed, and driver Henri Paul, who loses control of the car while attempting to elude paparazzi. Despite lengthy resuscitation attempts, including internal cardiac massage, Diana dies at 4 a.m. local time. Her funeral six days later is watched by an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide.

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