Humphrey Bogart meets an immoveable object.
If you haven't seen Mord for betaling, better known as The Enforcer, you may want to add it to your queue. In addition to featuring yet another excellent Humphrey Bogart performance, it's a historical curiosity. Central to its plot is Murder, Inc., a group of killers-for-hire used by organized crime gangs. Murder, Inc. contracted anonymous killers for mob hits, leaving police with bodies but no motives and no suspects. In fact, the terms “contract” and “hit” were invented by Murder, Inc. The Enforcer is also of historical significance because showings featured a foreword in which Senator Estes Kefauver, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee to Investigate Organized Crime, talked to the audience about the mafia, which the general public was just learning about at the time.
In the film Bogart plays a prosecutor who has been trying for years to bring down a crime boss named Albert Mendoza. When a witness dies, Bogart becomes aware of the existence of Murder, Inc. (though they aren't named that in the film), which to him seems like an impossibly bizarre idea. But he keeps uncovering more traces of the group until he finally believes. The rest of the film deals with his efforts to convince (or coerce) one of the cartel's members into being a witness in order to fry Mendoza. There are some twists and turns that force Bogart to shift gears more than once, and all of this is told in flashback, after the death of his stool pigeon, which happens in the first reel to set up the plot.
As we said, Bogart is solid as always, and he's helped greatly by Zero Mostel, who's quite good as a shaky potential witness. As far as the film as a whole goes, most vintage cinema fans consider it middling Bogart, but that's plenty good enough to warrant a look. The poster you see above, which we absolutely love, was made for Denmark, where the movie's title means, appropriately, “murder for payment.” We have several other posters for the film you can see at this link, and a cool Bogart promo photo that mirrors the above image, viewable at this link. The Enforcer premiered in the U.S. in 1951 and opened in Denmark today in 1952. But I distinctly remember being told this was a bow tie-only affair. I guess not.
She's overworked, underpaid, unappreciated, and has no backup plan. Also there's that whole curse thing.
Can a working girl find happiness à la Pretty Woman? That's the eternal question asked by (Maruhi) jorô seme jigoku, aka The Hell-Fated Courtesan. An Edo-era geisha-turned-prostitute played by Rie Nakagawa is believed by superstitious locals to be cursed because some of those who've had sex with her died. Her only sort-of-friend in this dark existence is a perverted artist, and her pimp is of course cruel and untrustworthy. But eventually she meets a puppeteer to whom she offers herself romantically only to be rebuffed. Surprised, she intones, “This is not an ordinary guy.” She's right. He refused her because he thinks he can only be turned on if a woman looks like one of his puppets, but when he finally samples some of that sweet Nakagawa he changes his mind about that and offers to take her with him to Osaka, where her problems and alleged curse will be behind her. Will she go? Will she be allowed to go? Will fate cut her a break? Pertinent questions all.
In 1973 Nikkatsu Studios' roman porno line had not yet jumped the shark, which means (Maruhi) jorô seme jigoku resembles a normal film in most ways. Its plot is basically linear, though it contains one framing segment; its sexual content is perverse, though not pointlessly misogynistic; and its humor generally works. In fact, there are some truly funny moments in this, such as when Nakagawa lets a carp suck her nipples. We won't even bother to describe what direction that scene goes. Later she slices off a dead man's finger and masturbates with it. Afterward she tells the finger that, though its former owner was a scoundrel and a snake, he will now go to heaven. That's some magical pussy. Maybe Nakagawa isn't cursed after all. Maybe she just embodies male insecurities and fears and they punish her as a result. And if that's true, maybe there is a Pretty Woman ending for her. But you never know. One character observes that a woman's heart is unpredictable and terrifying. (Maruhi) jorô seme jigoku tries to prove that adage true. It premiered in Japan today in 1973
We've been seeing each other for a while now. I've decided you can start coming up the front stairs.
Above, a Jim Bentley cover for L.K. Scott's Backstairs, 1953 for Pyramid Books. Bentley also worked for various men's adventure magazines, including Stag, for which he illustrated the James Jones story “The Knife” in December 1957. Jones, you may remember, wrote From Here to Eternity. We'll see if we can dig up more from Bentley later.
Should she stay or go? The chair may be the factor that tips her one way or the other.
This rare poster of U.S. actress Candice Bergen was printed and distributed in 1972 by a company called Nats Co-operated Reproduction. The shot was made in 1968 by famed photographer Terry O'Neill. There are other photos from the session. A couple even feature the same weathered beach chair that looks set to snap at any moment like something made from chopsticks, but as far as we know only Nats Co-operated used a color shot of Bergen in this particular pose. We've seen a black and white on Getty Images, but never one in color until this treasure. The beach, incidentally, immediately looked to us like our occasional stomping grounds the Balearic Islands, and sure enough, when we checked it turned out Bergen sat for this when she was filming The Magus in Mallorca. Another shot from the session appears below.
Better late than never is our motto around here.
We're finally getting back to paperback artist Gene Bilbrew, whose odd style, with its scantily clad women and their muscular butts has become collectible in recent years. We didn't get it at first, but like a lot of art, once you're exposed to it regularly you begin to appreciate its unique qualities. There's clear intent in Bilbrew's work, a deliberate attempt to approach illustration from a different angle, and we've grown to understand that his cartoonish, chaotic, often humorous, and often bondage themed aesthetic is purposeful. In fact, his imagery has become so intertwined with the bdsm scene that in 2019 the National Leather Association International established an award named after Bilbrew for creators of animated erotic art. While it's not exactly a Pulitzer Prize, the point is that Bilbrew's bizarre visions keep gaining wider acceptance. So for that reason we've put together another group of his paperback fronts. You can see more of them here, here, and here, and you can see a few rare oddities here, here, and here.
*psst* I want you to stick your finger in my handhole, only I don't really mean finger or handhole.
The iconic sleaze publisher Midwood Books uses Robert Schultz art twice on covers for John Turner's Take Care of Me and Vin Fields' The Come On, 1963 and 1966 respectively, in which a woman makes clear in her not-so-subtle way what's on her mind. You can make a case that she's not actually simulating sex with her hands. We won't make that case though—we think the slight mispositioning of her finger merely provides enough wiggle room to deny the undeniable, probably a necessary precaution during an era when publishers were occasionally hauled into court on obscenity charges. We think this is a pretty daring piece of art.
Sometimes you need to take a moment.
We know this moment well. Occasionally you need the world to just stop. In fact, we've built our lives around making this feeling last for weeks at a time. The person you see here having some she-time is Lilia del Valle, a Mexican actress—though born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic—who was active throughout the 1950s and ’60s, with this promo shot dating from 1955. She made about thirty movies, including 1952's El bello durmiente, aka The Beautiful Dreamer. Which is what it looks like she's doing here. In that case let's move on and not disturb her.
Dors gets caught short of blonde dye.
We always note that one reason mid-century tabloids have historical value is because of their rare shots of significant celebrities, and here's a perfect example. Diana Dors appears on the cover of a National Enquirer published today in 1960, and in this photo we've never seen anywhere else she's sporting deep black Frida Kahlo eyebrows. Dors was one of the most interesting figures of her time, and the blurb on this Enquirer references her marriage to Dennis Hamilton, a union which led to her being lent as a sexual plaything to various producers and leading actors, and which also gave Hamilton the incandescent idea of hiring photographer Horace Roye to make Dors the star attraction of two racy photo collections. One of those was in 3D, and we bet those batwing eyebrows of hers really jumped off the page. For a bit more about Dors' strange and remarkable life, check here.
Time keeps on ticking ticking ticking into the future.
Above is a poster for the film noir The Big Clock, based on Kenneth Fearing's 1946 novel, with Ray Milland playing a journalist at fictional Crimeways magazine who finds himself entangled with the boss's girlfriend, then in murder when she turns up dead. He had nothing to do with it, but had been seen all over Manhattan with her the night of her death, and is presumed to be the killer though nobody has identified him yet. In classic film noir fashion, Milland's boss sets him to solving the case. But how can he, when he's actually looking for himself? And how can he throw his numerous staffers off the scent while appearing to conduct a legit investigation, yet somehow find the real killer? It's quite a mess.
For casual movie fans, distinguishing film noir from vintage drama can be difficult, but of its many defining characteristics, flag this one: the man who finds himself in a vise that slowly tightens due to what had seemed at first to be inconsequential or random acts. The panting Milland bought in an art shop becomes a potential piece of evidence against him. The cheap sundial he acquired in a bar does the same. The random man he exchanged a few words with becomes a potential witness. And so on. He's the subject of a puzzle that has his face in the center. Other characters are slowly assembling pieces from the edges inward. If Milland doesn't outwit them before they find the piece with his face on it, he's screwed.
In addition to an involving plot, nice technical values, Ray Milland, and a large clock, The Big Clock brings the legendary Charles Laughton to the party, along with Maureen O'Sullivan, a decade removed from her ingenue period playing Jane in Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan movies, all grown up here as the smart, loyal, beautiful wife willing to come to Milland's aid when the chips are down. The film is unique, as well, for its interwoven comedy, unusual in films from this genre. These moments come often, and may seem obtrusive to some, but we thought they fit fine. And that's a good way to sum up The Big Clock. If you're a film noir fan, it'll fit you just fine. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1948.
When they say high school is torture usually they're kidding.
The beautiful Rushia Santô made only a few films during her brief career. One of them was the Nikkatsu Studios roman porno flick Onna kyôshi: Seito no me no maede, aka Female Teacher: In Front of the Students. Santô plays a high school teacher, and since her school looks like a prison it's no surprise she experiences a prison style shower rape. The student she eventually accuses of attacking her—Tôru Nakane, who the audience knows is innocent—retaliates by grabbing her and keeping her prisoner over spring break. This being a Nikkatsu film, that imprisonment naturally involves making Santô realize she's a sex maniac, and by the end of the break Santó, the studly Nakane, and his girlfriend Rina Oka are humping like rabbits.
The mystery that isn't a mystery is finally solved in the last part of this 70-minute sprint. There are some weak attempts at humor here and there, such as during a sex scene between Nakane and Oka when he's simultaneously eating a sticky bun and she's eating a banana, but the moment for cinematic discussions of whether some women like to be submissive—still ongoing as recently as in 2015's Fifty Shades of Grey—has definitively passed. As far as we're concerned anything done between consenting adults is fine, but consenting is the operative word. Nikkatsu films often play around with that concept, but these days such explorations are discordant, to say the least. Like all the obscure movies we watch, we're looking for forgotten gems. This is no gem, and maybe just needs to be forgotten. Onna kyôshi: Seito no me no maede premiered in Japan today in 1982.
Yay! Recess is over! Back to our soul sucking penitentiary of a high school! I have a very bad feeling about this movie.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1912—Pravda Is Founded
The newspaper Pravda, or Truth, known as the voice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, begins publication in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the country's leading newspapers until 1991, when it is closed down by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin. A number of other Pravdas appear afterward, including an internet site and a tabloid.
1983—Hitler's Diaries Found
The German magazine Der Stern claims that Adolf Hitler's diaries had been found in wreckage in East Germany. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a volume about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. But the diaries are subsequently revealed to be fakes written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger. Both he and Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann go to trial in 1985 and are each sentenced to 42 months in prison.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
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