Do you, Edmund, take this woman to be—and stop me if you've heard this before—your lawful wedded wife?
The title of The Bigamist may seem to give the plot of the film away, but the point of this once-neglected-now-rediscovered drama is not the revelation of bigamy, but rather the details of how a man ends up with two wives. Edmond O'Brien plays a successful traveling salesman married to lovely Joan Fontaine, and their lives in San Francisco seem pretty good, despite all the time O'Brien spends away on sales trips. When they decide to adopt a child the agency's investigation uncovers O'Brien's other wife Ida Lupino in Los Angeles, and an entire domestic existence with her. Oh what a tangled web.
From that point forward The Bigamist is O'Brien's mea culpa to the insurance agent who busted him. This movie pops up a lot on television but not because it's great—because it's in the public domain, and because people are interested in the output of Lupino as a director. Yes, she helmed this one and did so with style, turning what was probably destined to be a forgettable melodrama into a quasi film noir. In the end the movie still isn't great, but it's a lot better than it should be thanks to Lupino. The Bigamist premiered in the U.S. today in 1953.
Being the object of every man's desire will tend to take a toll.
It took us a while to figure it out, but this is a West German poster for Anita Ekberg's drama Screaming Mimi, which we talked about a couple of years ago. Die blonde Venus is a pretty generic re-titling, in our opinion, but we do like this unusual visual approach for the poster. The movie is about a woman suffering from the effects of a traumatic event in her past, who takes on a new identity and suffers the double misfortune of being dominated by her lover and targeted by a killer. It's definitely worth a watch. You can read more about it here. After opening in 1958 it finally premiered in West Germany today in 1960.
Rural heist goes way south.
The Big Caper by Lionel White is a bank robbery thriller written in multi-p.o.v. style, with more than a dozen characters ranging from compassionate to psychopathic all getting to describe the action. It's a good book. The crux of it is that a career bank robber sends his girlfriend and an associate to act as the advance team for the robbery. They go to the Florida town where the bank is located, set up as husband and wife, and spend six months gathering intelligence for the operation—from pacing out bank dimensions and vault location, to befriending local cops, uncovering data on important people and town operations, to renting a big house and hosting other members of the crew as they trickle into town. The boss has told his vanguard that their husband and wife act is just that—an act. Do they pay attention? No. And it's from there that complications begin to arise. The plot is carefully structured and the writing is a cut above the usual genre fare, but the ending is a bit pat. Still, it's basically a winner. Gold Medal published this edition in 1955 with cover art by Barye Phillips, and the book became a 1957 film noir of the same name starring Rory Calhoun and Mary Costa. We may check that out later.
A stranger in strange lands comes to know pure evil.
Because Eric Ambler's 1939 thriller The Mask of Dimitrios is the source of the classic 1944 film noir of the same name starring Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, we should have read it long ago, but better late than never. The book tells the story of a writer in Istanbul who becomes interested in a killer, smuggler, slaver, and political agitator known as Dimitrios Makropoulos. In hopes of finding inspiration the writer begins to piece together the life of this mystery man.
The investigation carries him from Istanbul to Sofia to Geneva and beyond. That sounds exotic, but the story is almost entirely driven by external and internal dialogues, with little effort spent bringing alive its far flung locales. While we see that as a missed opportunity, and the book could be shorter considering so much of the aforementioned dialogue fails to further illuminate matters, it's fascinating how Dimitrios is slowly pieced together. Here's a line to remember, as the main character Latimer reflects upon the modern age and what the world is becoming:
“The logic of Michelangelo's David and Beethoven's quartets and Einstein's physics had been replaced by that of The Stock Exchange Yearbook and Hitler's Mein Kampf.”
That isn't one you'd soon forget. Ambler sees casino capitalism and Nazism as twin signposts on a road to perdition built by people like Dimitrios. We can't even imagine that being written by a popular author today without controversy, but Ambler, writing in England during the late 1930s, had zero trouble identifying exactly what he was looking at. This Great Pan edition of The Mask of Dimitrios appeared many years later in 1961, and it has unusual but effective cover art from S. R. Boldero.
Why the hell didn't I think to have the bank teller double bag this?
We keep sharing posters for Stanley Kubrick's thriller The Killing because each one we see is unique and interesting. Above is an Italian poster we missed when we shared three other promos from Italy last year. This one, with its broken sack of cash symbolizing the futility of the central robbery, was painted by Giuliano Nistri. It's impressive that the Italian distributors commissioned three completely different masterful promos for the film, but that was the golden era of cinematic art. These days in Italy, as everywhere, movie posters are merely photographs with text emblazoned across them, but once upon a time they produced amazing things like what you see above, and here. Rapina a mano armata, aka The Killing premiered in Italy today in 1957.
Maybe I should have listened to my parents and stayed in community college.
Above, a nice James Avati cover for Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham, copyright 1949. The hardback of this came out in 1946, and it was adapted to the big screen in 1947 with Tyrone Power in the lead role, so this art reflects the movie, which is why the cover femme looks like and is dressed like co-star Colleen Gray. This is one of many mid-century novels set in and around carnivals, and it's one of the better ones, we think. The film version adheres reasonably close to Gresham's original vision. We talked about it several years ago, so check here if you're interested. We've also talked about several other carnival books over the years and now we have an idea to put together a cover collection along those lines. We'll have to see if there are any examples left to find. But in the meantime you can see what we've already collected here, here, here, and here.
The Florida heat cooks up trouble in Lawrence Kasdan's masterful neo-noir.
Kill your husband for you? Sure, I can make that happen, I guess. Spousal murder is a film noir and pulp fiction plot tentpole, and the motivation for trying something so risky generally revolves around sex. But during the time the film noir and pulp fiction genres were extant their makers could only imply it. The neo-noir thriller Body Heat, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1981, fixed that problem, as not-so-bright lawyer Ned Racine, played by William Hurt, is seduced into a murder plot by whip smart bombshell Matty Walker, played by Kathleen Turner in her cinematic debut.
Body Heat is an apt title. The setting is South Florida during a heat wave, with most of the action set in the mythical towns of Pinehaven and Miranda Beach. Every frame of the movie seems to vent steam. There's copious slippery sex and nudity, all of it important to the plot. When the pair have their electric first encounter Hurt pulls off Turner's panties with an expression of pure awe on his face and intones, “So wet.” For just that moment he wonders if it's really him turning on a woman that much. And he's right to wonder, because it isn't him. What's turning her on is money.
Directed and written by Lawrence Kasdan, the film is a reworking of Double Indemnity, but it improves on the original in the sense that we fully understand the visceral reasons why murder has occurred. That moisture between Turner's legs causes an electrical short in Hurt's brain. After subsequent sexual encounters, including an anal session that's implied but clear as day thanks to some clever visuals, he's hooked like a bluegill. For a guy just smart enough to get a law degree, but not bright enough to avoid being known as his town's worst lawyer, bedding Turner makes him feel godlike. Surely he can pull off murder and make it look like an accident.
Body Heat made Turner, Hurt, and Kasdan superstars, and did the same for a few of its below-the-line players. Turner went on to become one of the pre-eminent actresses of her generation; Hurt, who had starred in the brilliant but under appreciated Altered States, became one of Hollywood's top leading men; and Kasdan directed Silverado, The Big Chill, and other hits. Co-star Ted Danson also blew up, and Mickey Rourke parlayed a blazing supporting bit into a career as Hollywood's go-to rebel creep. You know any film that ignites five such careers is top notch, but as a post-noir entry Body Heat is also cinematically important. Not only did it finally lay bare the motivation behind all those noir murders and obsessions, but it did so with a reverent visual style and pitch perfect mood. We can't recommend it strongly enough.
I've got a handful of sleeping pills for you.
Since we brought up The Big Sleep we might as well share this nice image of Martha Vickers armed and dangerous. Though this was made for the film, it isn't a still frame, but rather a promo image unrelated to the action. She actually does brandish a gun at one point, but it's a 1930s Iver Johnson revolver rather than the automatic you see here. We've shared several other images of Vickers, all rare, all beautiful. See the top three here, here, and here.
What does Rita Hayworth wear under her skirt? Advertising!
This unique Columbia Pictures promo image was made for Rita Hayworth's 1952 thriller Affair in Trinidad. It reunited Hayworth with co-star Glenn Ford in a attempt to recapture the magic of their 1946 blockbuster Gilda. It didn't quite work, but this promo is inspired.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1984—Britain Agrees to Cede Hong Kong
Great Britain signs over Hong Kong to China in an agreement stipulating that
the colony be returned to the Chinese in 1997. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signs the Joint Sino-British Declaration with her Chinese counterpart Zhao Ziyang, while political groups in Hong Kong push futilely for independence.
1912—Piltdown Man Discovered
A hominid fossil known as Piltdown Man is found in England's Piltdown Gravel Pit by paleontologist Charles Dawson. The fragments are thought by many experts of the day to be the fossilized remains of a hitherto unknown form of early man, but in 1953 it is discovered to be a hoax composed of a human skeleton and an orangutan's jawbone. The identity of the Piltdown forger remains unknown, but suspects have included Dawson, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Arthur Conan Doyle and others.
1967—Australian Prime Minister Disappears
The Prime Minister of Australia, Harold Holt, who was best known for expanding Australia's role in the Vietnam War, disappears while swimming at Cheviot Beach near Portsea, Victoria and is presumed drowned.
1969—Project Blue Book Ends
The United States Air Force completes its study of UFOs, stating that sightings are generated as a result of a mild form of mass hysteria, and that individuals who fabricate such reports do so to perpetrate a hoax or seek publicity, or are psychopathological persons, or simply misidentify various conventional objects.
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