It could have been worse. They could have flown United.
This chaotic West German poster for Der söldner des syndikats caught our eye for a couple of reasons. One was its sheer garishness, and the other was because the unknown artist depicted diminutive Mickey Rooney all swoll up like a Marvel Comics superhero. It just screams cheeseball classic, so we had to check out the film, which is known in English as 24 Hours To Kill. When a plane makes an emergency landing in Beirut the flight crew learns that one of their number (Rooney, decidedly un-swoll and unheroic) is hunted by a criminal smuggling syndicate he's double crossed. The repaired plane leaves in twenty-four hours, and the crew decide to protect Rooney until that time. Abandoning him is out, because he's a pal, and going to the police is out, because they'd be stuck in Beirut for days or weeks, thus making the syndicate's job easier.
So the plan is to protect Mickey Louse for a day and then jet—if they can manage it. What follows is a series of botched abductions worthy of Raiders of the Lost Ark, ornamented with location shooting in Byblos, Baalbeck, Casio Du Liban, and a Beirut long since reshaped by war and bulldozed for high rises and privatized resorts. Those locations possibly make the movie worthwhile all on their own, and other beautiful sights are provided by co-stars Helga Sommerfield and France Anglade. A minor ’60s thriller, this one feels like a television movie, which means the level of tension is not nearly high enough. Nor the level of action—there's more on the poster than in the film. But even if the art misleads, the movie is entertaining enough. Made in English by the West German production company Grixflag Films Ltd., Der söldner des syndikats premiered in West Germany today in 1965.
Intimidating movie poster Mickey. Not very intimidating movie Mickey.
It isn't the wind making that howling noise.
Above you see two colorful Japanese posters for The Howling, Joe Dante's 1981 werewolf thriller starring Dee Stone, Patrick Macnee, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers hero Kevin McCarthy. As werewolf movies go, The Howling was a bit of a gamechanger simply because the principle werewolf was more terrifying than any that had been put on screen to that point. It looks more than anything like a ten-foot tall Wile E. Coyote, with a long crooked snout, and devilish ears that stick out from its head like horns. Covered with wiry hair and perched upon long canine legs like a walking dog, the brute physicality of this beast is cringe inducing. On the other hand, the ancillary werewolves might make you laugh. The filmmakers obviously wanted to genderize the creatures, which led to the idea of making the female wolves somehow cute. Instead they end up looking like Ewoks. The giallo-styled soundtrack might also be jarring for modern audiences. We love it, though it's right in your face like doggie breath.
But the film is definitely worth watching these thirty-six years later. The plot involves a television reporter whose investigation into serial killings in New York City result in her—seemingly in random fashion—spending time in a rural retreat to recover from emotional trauma. There she realizes a coven of werewolves rule the woods. Dante went for a slow build-up to the big reveal, and when that first encounter came it forever recalibrated the werewolf genre. Today some of the balloon effects may look quaint, but objectively they're more visceral than anything computer graphics have managed thus far. Other effects, including a brief animation, aren't as convincing, but no movie is perfect. The Howling is a landmark, and our only regret is we were never able to see it in a cinema (though that may change if ever our local horror festival screens it). The film premiered in the U.S. in March 1981, and first howled across Japan today the same year.
In retrospect, maybe this solo hiking trip wasn't the best idea. Oh well, I'll be fine. But next year: Burning Man.
Hmm. So she disappeared down there in that bizarre nimbus of light? I think it's about time for my donut break.
Okay, okay! Let me just find the leash and we'll go. Geez—sometimes I can't tell who's the owner and who's the pet.
Arooooooo! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Baaaaacooooon!
So, you loaded this with the silver bullets, right? Right? Baby, did you hear me?
Well, the thing is, werewolfing helps me relax. Fronting my speedmetal band is really stressful.
I think the night went bad after the third Jäger shot. Could be worse, though. Garth got a tribal tattoo on his calf. Man, these beasts are seriously horr— Whoa. Single white werewolf at twelve o'clock. Bitch got some fucked up teeth but I can work with that.
The thrill of the Chasse.
This promo poster from Colombia Pictures was made to promote the Belgian run of the film noir Chasse à l'homme, better known as The Glass Wall. This is an interesting one. Starring Vittorio Gassman and Gloria Grahame, the movie is set at the end of World War II and tells the story of a Hungarian refugee who arrives in New York harbor as a stowaway on a ship. Onboard immigration cops catch him, but he eludes them and jumps ship to search for a war buddy who can prove he has the right to legal residency under a special exemption for those who aided Allied soldiers. He must find this friend who can prove his bona fides, and do it within twenty four hours or be permanently barred from the U.S. A photo in the morning paper alerts the public and Chasse à l'homme becomes a double manhunt—the hero's search for his buddy, and the cops' search for the hero. The film is obviously a piece of light propaganda concerning the desirability of life in the U.S., but as a noir it also shows a darker side to American society, such as when Gloria Grahame is under threat of eviction, and when the landlady's son tries to force himself on her. Gassman was an experienced actor by this point, and Grahame, as noted on the poster, had already won an Academy Award for The Bad and the Beautiful. Both do solid work here. The movie opened in the U.S. in March of 1953 and reached Brussels, Belgium today in 1954.
Bette Davis tries to hang on to her freedom in a man's world.
This is a killer poster. You'd think Ex-Lady was a crime movie about a deadly femme fatale, but it'a actually a breezy little drama about a modern Manhattanite—played by a twenty-five-year old Bette Davis—who has always rejected marriage in favor of freedom and fun. She has a lover—made pretty clear in this pre-Code production—as well as a career as a commercial artist, but society and her father apply pressure for her to be conventional. Davis is fun in this, playing a woman who's smart and sweet, ambitious yet insouciant, and great with a quip. She's basically perfect, and this movie is an instructive artifact from the Jazz Age, a time when sexual mores went out the window and women began having sex before marriage. In fact, some data suggests the majority of unmarried women were non-virgins before tying the knot. Will Davis retain her independence? Will she marry and turn into Susie Normal? Can she and her boy toy Gene Raymond hang on to their love in this crazy mixed up world? We aren't telling. This is worth a watch, though some dialogue that's meant to be snappy comes across flat today. As a side note, though the film wasn't censored, several scenes would have been cut had it been released a few years later. See if you can spot them. You'll have to think like a Hays Code censor—i.e. a repressed, dirty-minded killjoy who sees filth in everything. Ex-Lady premiered in the U.S. today in 1933.
Human nature red in tooth and claw.
Whenever we have minimal expectations of a film and receive reasonable entertainment we're reminded why we like watching old movies so much. In The Leopard Man, for which you see a striking poster above, a New Mexico nightclub chanteuse loses her feline sidekick and it soon begins prowling the desert night and savaging women. Or is it? Pretty soon the singer and her manager begin to wonder if the leopard is being blamed for killings committed by someone—or something—else. The movie feels a bit like Cat People, which makes sense, because director Jacques Tourneur helmed both productions. But where Cat People was set in New York City, this one has a bordertown flavor, with flamenco music and various Mexican and Spanish characters in scattered roles, including Margo—just Margo—who was Spanish bandleader Xavier Cugat's niece. The solution to the mystery comes in a climax set against the town's creepy Spanish processions. It turns out the killer is a someone, not a something, but that was never truly in doubt. At just over an hour in length the movie is a pretty nice time killer, but the shorthand feel of it also shows why feature films tend to be longer. The Leopard Man premiered in the U.S. today in 1943.
Spare the rod, spoil the child.
We ran across this West German poster for Solange ein herz schlaegt, aka Mildred Pierce, and realized we had a substantial gap in our film noir résumé. So we watched the movie, and what struck us about it immediately is that it opens with a shooting. Not a lead-in to a shooting, but the shooting itself—fade in, bang bang, guy falls dead. These days most thrillers bludgeon audiences with big openings like that, but back in the day such action beats typically came mid- and late-film. So we were surprised by that. What we weren't surprised by was that Mildred Pierce is good. It's based on a James M. Cain novel, is directed by Michael Curtiz, and is headlined by Joan Crawford. These were top talents in writing, directing, and acting, which means the acclaim associated with the movie is deserved.
While Mildred Pierce is a mystery thriller it's also a family drama revolving around a twice-married woman's dysfunctional relationship with her gold-digging elder daughter, whose desperation to escape her working class roots leads her to make some very bad decisions. Her mother, trying to make her daughter happy, makes even worse decisions. The movie isn't perfect—for one, the daughter's feverish obsession with money seems extreme considering family financial circumstances continuously improve; and as in many movies of the period, the only black character is used as cringingly unkind comic relief. But those blemishes aside, this one is enjoyable, even if the central mystery isn't really much of a mystery. Solange ein herz schlaegt, aka Mildred Pierce opened in West Germany today in 1950.
Life on the edge of a razor.
Above is a Japanese poster for the 1972 blaxploitation film Come Back Charleston Blue, starring Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques as the Harlem detectives Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. It was the sequel to the highly successful Cotton Comes to Harlem. The plot deals with the return of a legendary vigilante named Charleston Blue, who killed with a blue steel straight razor and is believed by some to be responsible for a series of recent slayings aimed at the local drug trade. He's supposed to be dead, but his casket is empty and his collection of razors has gone missing. Is he really back from beyond? You'll have to watch the movie to find out. Reviews were mixed, but there are some thrills and laughs, there's good location filming around Harlem and environs pre-gentrification, and the soundtrack by Quincy Jones and Donny Hathaway is a nice bonus. All-in-all, a middling effort, but certainly not a waste of time. Come Back Charleston Blue first played in Japan today in 1973.
Schubert runs into trouble Nero and far.
Shot in the Dominican Republic, Il pavone nero is one of those voodoo and sex cocktails that were popular in international b-cinema during the 1970s. In fact, its English title is Voodoo Sexy, which tells you everything you need to know, just in case the promo poster doesn't. Other examples from this fertile genre discussed here on Pulp Intl. include Porno Shock, aka Voodoo Passion, and Al tropico del cancro, aka Tropic of Cancer. And of course queen b Laura Gemser had a few run-ins with santería as well.
In Il pavone nero an Italian engineer goes to Santo Domingo to help build a dam. His wife—the lovely Karin Schubert—surprises him in his hotel after he thought he'd left her in Italy. It's the first of many surprises. Rather than stay in the hotel the couple opt to inhabit an isolated beach shack on the border with Haiti, a domicile that was occupied by the previous dam engineer, who inexplicably disappeared. Uh oh. This is a classic case of thumbing one's nose at fate.
We quickly find that ethnic Haitians in the region are against the dam, and that voodoo rites are their weapon of choice to prevent its construction. But their leader Balaga, played by U.S. actor, musician, and sexploitation go-to voodoo guy Don Powell, carves out a little time from his resistance activities to pursue Schubert, possibly drawn by her astounding whitegirl afro. She in turn is drawn by the local santería rituals, which involve a bit of chicken chopping—poor chickens—and some humping of the fully explicit variety, depending on which version of the film you watch. Though Schubert would later delve into porn, her scenes here were performed by a body double.
Il pavone nero ends with the arrest of the voodoo environmentalists, which means the dam is no longer in danger. Can't stop progress, after all. There may be an environmental message buried in this film, or an anti-colonial message, or a racial harmony message, or even a spiritual message, but those are all secondary to the real point—for audiences to enjoy some vanilla Schubert getting freaky with the locals. The movie delivers ample opportunities, as you can see in the promo images below. Also, there's a cockfight. There's always a cockfight. Poor chickens. Il pavone nero premiered in Italy today in 1975.
French Polynesia gets whitewashed by tropical storm Hollywood.
This poster was made to promote the mostly forgotten b-picture Call of the South Seas, one of those Westerners-in-paradise flicks so popular during the mid-century period. The set-up here is simple: a roguish adventurer fetches up on a Pacific island looking for work. He takes a job at an exporting firm, but finds that his employers are paying the local Polynesians a pittance of the fortune being earned. The movie stars Janet Martin as Tahia, who's local but whose mother was French, grandmother was French, and great grandmother was French, a line of dilution strong enough to ensure that she possesses the needed racial purity to serve as love interest to co-star Allan Lane. While her blood has been whitewashed, her linguistics have not, leading to her delivering hilarious lines like, “I come because I very angry and if I don't let it out I burn all up inside.” The filmmakers had a grand old time making this movie, and the end result, clumsy though it may be, is non-malicious. It also has Adele Mara in a small part, and as a bonus she's wearing this. Call of the South Seas premiered in the U.S. today in 1944.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1914—RMS Empress Sinks
Canadian Pacific Steamships' 570 foot ocean liner Empress of Ireland is struck amidships by a Norwegian coal freighter and sinks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the loss of 1,024 lives. Submerged in 130 feet of water, the ship is so easily accessible to treasure hunters who removed valuables and bodies from the wreck that the Canadian government finally passes a law in 1998 restricting access.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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