What the hell are you two snickering about? You never seen a guy polish his tommy gun before?
Harry Schaare does nice work on a cover for W.R. Burnett's thriller High Sierra, copyright 1950 from Bantam Books. If anybody snickered it was probably Schaare himself. He had to know how masturbatory this looked, right? Or maybe it's just us. Anyway, this book obviously became a celebrated gangster film noir starring Humphrey Bogart, but the source material is electric. We read it years ago and it stuck with us. Highly recommended.
She made a resolution to see the world from a fresh perspective.
Ellen Drew, née Esther Loretta Ray, was only 5'3”, which means she probably needed help getting onto and off of these rings, but she looks pretty comfy up there, and joins other gymnastic femmes fatales we've featured. Drew debuted onscreen in 1936 and made scores of movies, including Johnny O'Clock and The Crooked Way. She actually acted under her birth name for twenty-five films, but switched to Ellen Drew in 1938 and sustained her career into the early 1960s. This shot of her risking a broken head or tailbone was made around 1940. If you want to see other classic celebs performing aerial gymnastics, check here for Danielle Darrieux, here for Sophie Hardy, and here for the goddess Joey Heatherton.
Peggy Cummins hit Hollywood with guns blazing.
According to a story yesterday in The Hollywood Reporter, Wales born Irish actress Peggy Cummins died in a London hospital December 29 after suffering a stroke. She was ninety-two years old. Cummins, who was born Augusta Fuller, played the morality challenged Annie Laurie Starr in Gun Crazy, a low budget film noir that rose above its humble station over the decades to eventually be included in the U.S. Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. While the film is often characterized as a breakthrough fro Cummins, it was actually her eleventh screen role, and did not lead to a career of top notch offers. However, she ultimately appeared in more than twenty-five productions, with her last coming in 1965. The above photo was made a promo for Gun Crazy and dates from 1950. You can read more about the film here.
Santa Claus, huh? Well, let's see some identification. And get those reindeer back or they'll be sorry.
Above, a nice promo shot for the Dick Powell film noir Cornered, which opened in the U.S. today in 1945. Powell is posing with co-star Micheline Cheirel. If you're interested we talked about the movie here.
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. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
1916—Einstein Publishes General Relativity
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity. Among the effects of the theory are phenomena such as the curvature of space-time, the bending of rays of light in gravitational fields, faster than light universe expansion, and the warping of space time around a rotating body.
1931—Nevada Approves Gambling
In the U.S., the state of Nevada passes a resolution allowing for legalized gambling. Unregulated gambling had been commonplace in the early Nevada mining towns, but was outlawed in 1909 as part of a nationwide anti-gaming crusade. The leading proponents of re-legalization expected that gambling would be a short term fix until the state's economic base widened to include less cyclical industries. However, gaming proved over time to be one of the least cyclical industries ever conceived.
1941—Tuskegee Airmen Take Flight
During World War II, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, aka the Tuskegee Airmen, is activated. The group is the first all-black unit of the Army Air Corp, and serves with distinction in Africa, Italy, Germany and other areas. In March 2007 the surviving airmen and the widows of those who had died received Congressional Gold Medals for their service.
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