First rule of plotting a murder: make sure the victim isn't listening in.
Above you see a poster for Pickup, one of the nastier little noirs we've run across our years maintaining this website. Beverly Michaels tries to worm her way into a retired man's affections in order to have the life of leisure she thinks she deserves. But her target, in addition to being old fashioned and a bit obtuse, has some sort of chronic or psychosomatic brain injury that results in confusion and hearing loss. Even so, she manages to marry the poor slob, then sets about figuring how to kill him to obtain his savings of $7,300. When he's hit by a car one afternoon his hearing returns, but Michaels has no idea it's happened and openly plots to murder him, assuming he's still deaf while the entire time he listens in horror. This isn't supposed to be funny, but it is, uproariously. Michaels says the most vicious things about the guy, behind his back and right to his face, day after day, with no idea he can hear every word. These crazy sequences are a big reason why this cheap little b-flick has survived the decades. Plus Michaels knocks her first starring turn over the center field bleachers, playing shrill, wall-eyed evil to the hilt. She was rewarded with more work, including similar gold digger parts in 1953's Wicked Woman and 1956's Blonde Bait. The latter was her last role, making for a short career, but a memorable one. We recommend Pickup, morbid plot, shoestring production values, and all. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1951.
The ocean is perfect for covering a multitude of sins.
Manatsu no joji, aka Midsummer Affair—Underwater Series Part 4, appeared in 1960 from Shochiku Company Limited, and above you see two nice promo posters for the movie. These epics are, of course, nothing without franchise star Kyoko Izumi, and here she plays a woman discovered adrift on the sea. She tells her rescuers that her husband, less lucky, drowned trying to save her. But some elements of her story don't add up—for instance she claims to be a poor swimmer, but soon it becomes clear that she's quite at home in the water. Suspicions arise that Izumi has committed foul play, a fact soon clear enough to the audience. Meanwhile a swimwear fashion show and a bitter rivalry between two female aquatic teams give her the cover she needs to try to eliminate the person most intent on proving she murdered her husband. All she has to do is point and shoot—with a poison filled syringe. Will she get away with this crazy scheme? We're not telling. This was the last film in this franchise, but she did act in one more ama film, 1963's Ama no kaishinju, which was made by a different production company. So it looks like this'll do it for the series, except for an alternate poster for part 3 we have hiding somewhere. We'll get that up at some point.
Every time I turn my back you bite another little hussy from the village
This unusual Japanese poster was made to promote the horror flick The Brides of Dracula, which premiered in the U.K. today in 1960. We don't have a Japanese premiere date, but we're guessing it was several years later. In the film, a French schoolteacher is hired to staff a position in Transylvania and, having lodging difficulties upon arrival, ends up accepting an offer by Baroness Meinster to spend the night in her creepy old castle. The teacher discovers the Baroness's son chained up in one of the rooms. She helps the seemingly beleaguered wretch escape, not realizing she's just released a vampire. She still doesn't realize it when she later agrees to marry him, but that's about when Dr. Abraham Van Helsing shows up with plans to ram a sharp piece of wood through his heart. Will it happen in time to save the teacher from a really bad marriage to a vampire who has neglected to mention not only that he's undead, but that he already has several undead wives? You'll have to watch to find that out. If you like dungeon horror, it's worth the effort, as this is from Hammer Studios, and is probably one of the best efforts from one of the most storied horror production companies.
There's no business like Monroe business.
Spanish illustrator Francisco Fernandez Zarza-Pérez painted this beautiful poster for the comedy Luces de candilejas, aka There's No Business Like Show Business, and signed the piece as his alter ego Jano. As you can see by comparing the poster to the set photo below, he covered Monroe's leg, which maybe isn't surprising, since he was working in Franco's fascist Spain. Even so this is by far the best poster we've seen from him. The movie's Spanish title Luces de candilejas translates as “candle lights,” which is appropriate, as Marilyn Monroe gets into the type of moth-to-flame difficulties in which she specialized, with her arrival as a new talent on the Vaudeville scene bringing strife to a show business family. No pulp material here—it's a pure musical, with a lot of performance numbers from Monroe, Mitzi Gaynor, Johnnie Ray, Dan Dailey, and headliners Ethel Merman and Donald O'Connor. The Jano artwork makes the poster a must share, but the film is a pass—not because it's a Vaudeville musical, but because it's bland, due in part to Monroe's minimal screen time. Luces de candilejas premiered in Spain today in 1959, and you can see more Jano here.
And they thought cellblocks 1 through 6 were bad.
Diario segreto da un carcere femminile, for which you see a nice poster above, was released in English as Women in Cellblock 7. Jenny Tamburi is thrown in prison as an accessory to a drug trafficking doublecross that led to the disappearance of twenty kilos of heroin. Interpol agent Anita Strindberg wants to prove her father, also an Interpol agent, had nothing to do with the heist, and has herself and her amazing hair placed in prison in order to ply Tamburi for exonerating evidence. Outside parties think Tamburi knows where the missing heroin is, including her lawyer and the mafia, but she claims to have no idea.
So you have an innocent woman in prison, under threat from convicts connected to the mafia, and into this arrives an undercover agent who soon becomes her protector. The cast, which besides Tamburi and Strindberg includes Eva Czemerys, Olga Bisera, Cristina Gaioni, and Valeria Fabrizi, get to rubbing on each other in beds and showers in cinematic approximations of lesbian sex, which means you've got yourself a classic women in prison sexploitation flick. There's also a plot thread external to the prison involving the mafia trafficantes, and some of this features effective action, but it's the ladies on lockdown that are the draw here.
Do they make the movie worth watching? We wouldn't go that far, but they're certainly scenic, and they work hard to hold together a ridiculous script. The conundrum of movie acting is that you have to give it your all or be judged unfit for further roles. At eighty-one minutes in length, at least the film lets the cast out early for good behavior even if the warden doesn't. Diario segreto da un carcere femminile premiered in Italy today in 1973, and the poster was painted by Enzo Nistri. You can see more of his work here and here.
Mamie Van Doren makes her mark on a Generation.
We think this is a beautiful promo poster for The Beat Generation, but don't let its colorful nature fool you—the movie is surprisingly dark. It uses the beatnik counterculture as a backdrop, but really has nothing to with it, except to belittle it. Steve Cochrane plays a Los Angeles detective chasing after a serial rapist. Through a random encounter, the rapist becomes aware of Cochrane and decides to make his wife a victim. Will he get away with it? You'll have to watch the film. We can tell you its most dramatic aspect involves whether a rape victim can obtain an abortion. The never explored details of how she plans to do it don't matter, because we know she'll change her mind.
You can't blame the movie for being predictable in that respect, though. How else was it going to go in the 1950s? The main thing to keep in mind about The Beat Generation is that it was mismarketed—deliberately, we suspect—to trick younger cinemagoers into forking over their cash for a Trojan horse message movie. We're not big fans of that sort of chicanery, but it's well produced, reasonably good, and as a bonus features Fay Spain, Irish McCalla, Robert Mitchum's brother Jim, and Steve Cochrane's chest hair. The Beat Generation premiered in the U.S. today in 1959.
Sharp curves and unexpected twists in road next 1,000 miles.
Every once in a while we come across a pleasant surprise of a film and Road Games is an example of that perfect nexus where no expectations meet good filmmaking to greatly improve our day. Starring Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis, Road Games is about an American hitchhiker making her way across the Australian outback the same time a depraved serial killer is loose on the road. She's picked up by truck driver Keach and the two of them come to believe they're following the same route across the country as the murderer. Keach and Curtis are great in this. Even though Curtis's attraction to a porno mustached forty-something can only be explained as a case of outback fever, the May/December storyline is deftly handled and reasonably believable, and the entire movie is given extra dimensionality by vast Australian vistas and witty dialogue. We highly recommend this one. It seems to have been mismarketed as a horror movie back in its day, but really it's just a thriller. Straightforward, well made, and starring two appealing performers, Road Games premiered in Australia today in 1981. You see the Aussie poster above, while the U.S. promo, along with some production photos, is below.
Kyoko Izumi drifts into dangerous waters.
Yes, it's another movie from the Underwater Series. We already shared posters for installments two and three, which premiered in June 1958 and June 1959 respectively. The makers of these films really liked June premiere dates, because Ama bune yori: Kindan no suna premiered today in 1957. This is the film, based on a novel by Keitaro Konda, that launched the series. It tells the story of man who returns to his home fishing village after five years away and rekindles his relationship with a local ama, played by series star Kyoko Izumi. Problem is he isn't the one interested in Izumi, and the resulting love triangle eventually leads to tragedy, as is common in these movies. Incidentally, we can't be sure what the western title was for this, or whether there was one. Many of these obscure Japanese flicks never played outside Asia, and this may be one. In fact, there's so much conflicting information on this we can't be 100% we got everything right. We may have to make correction later, but the main thing is to enjoy the striking poster art. Actually, we're feeling pretty good about uploading all these ama posters, because some of them weren't available online. There are still more films from the genre for which we have art to share, so keep an eye out for that down the line.
Proceed carefully—ice may occur at major plot points.
The thriller Suspense featured the unusual promo poster you see above, which we think really captures the visual feel of film noir in a way posters more typical of the genre do not. Those posters are amazing, but this one is a nice change of pace. The movie stars Olympic ice skater and sometime magazine model Belita, alongside Barry Sullivan, an incredibly prolific actor who appeared in scores of films. Sullivan plays a hustler who weasels his way up from lowly peanut vendor to fast living impresario at a wildly popular Los Angeles ice skating extravaganza. The catalyst for his ascent is his radical suggestion that Belita leap through a circle of swords. Only in old movies, right? “Hey, that circle of swords gag was a great idea! How'd you like to manage the joint!”
Belita's ice skater is a riff on the standard film noir chanteuse, except instead of doing a few a nightclub numbers she does a few skate routines. She's as good as advertised, too. But the success of any film romance hinges on the chemistry between the boy and girl and here it feels contrived. Both Belita and Sullivan are decent actors, but he's a little too charisma challenged, in our view, to attract someone whose life is going as skatingly as Belita's. But it's in the script, so okay, she likes the schlub. What Suspense does well, though, is visuals. Check out what director Frank Tuttle does late in the film when the shadow of the aforementioned sword contraption appears outside Sullivan's office. Beautiful work, suggesting that karma may indeed be a circle.
On the whole, Suspense uses ice the same way Die Hard uses a skyscraper. The entire film is improved by the freshness of the setting. Add expensive production values and visuals worthy of study in a film school and you have a noir whose many plusses cancel out its few minuses. We recommend it.
As a side note, the ice show is staged in the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, one of the most breathtaking art deco structures ever built, which was of course eventually demolished because that's what they do in Los Angeles. Actually, a fire destroyed it, but only after seventeen years of abandonment which would not have happened if anyone important in the city cared about historically significant architecture. Suspense brings the Pan-Pacific, just above, back to life, and that's another reason to watch it. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.
I'm going to stand right here in your personal space and repeat myself until you say yes.
We're supposed to do a screen kiss, but I'm totally gonna slip you some tongue.
Wow, these are razor sharp, but you'll be fine. Unrelated question—how's your insurance coverage?
Currents and caves are bad enough, but lies can drag you into really dangerous waters.
Last week we talked about the 1959 drama Zoku-zoku-Kindan no suna: Akai pantsu, third film in the Shochiku Co. franchise sometimes referred to as the Underwater Series. You know we're sticklers for talking about movies on their premiere dates, which is why today we're looking at Zoku kindan no suna, which opened in Japan today in 1958. In the west the movie was known as Forbidden Sands or The Prohibited Man's Sand, and like the others in the series deals with the loves and troubles of an ama—a female skin diver. Two bank robbers steal seven million yen, which we think is like forty or fifty bucks, and hide out on an island peopled by amas and their families. The crooks pretend to be a marine biology professor and his assistant, and they don scuba gear and hide the cash in some underwater caves known as the Dragon's Caves—a name which just screams trouble. They're convinced the treasure is inaccessible, but these amas are really good, and one in particular has no trouble at all making especially long dives. One of the crooks takes a shine to her, and warns her to stay out of the caves because they're dangerous, but the shine is mutual, so surprise surprise, as a gift she decides to swim down there to find rare specimens for his phony marine research. Yes, theft is one thing, but lies are a whole other bucket of starfish. Zoku kindan no suna is a recommendable flick, but be forewarned that if you're in the States it might be even harder to find than that loot in the Dragon's Caves. But at least you can enjoy the posters. We aren't done with this series, so keep an eye out for another installment in a bit.
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