Something old, something new.
This is something a bit unusual. It's a life-sized promotional cardboard cut-out for 1982's film noir-sourced comedy Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which starred Steve Martin and Rachel Ward. We thought of this film recently due to Martin's new Agatha Christie-influenced television mystery series Only Murders in the Building, which we watched and enjoyed. We first saw Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid years ago, long before Pulp Intl. and all the knowledge we've gained about film noir. We liked it much better during our recent viewing.
If you haven't seen it, Martin uses scores of film noir clips to weave a mystery in which he stars as private detective Rigby Reardon. Aside from Ward, and director Rob Reiner, his co-stars are Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Barbara Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Cary Grant, and many others, all arranged into a narrative that turns out to be about cheese, a Peruvian island, and a plot to bomb the United States.
The film's flow only barely holds together, which you'd have to expect when relying upon clips from nineteen old noirs to cobble together a plot, but as a noir tribute—as well as a satirical swipe at a couple of sexist cinematic tropes from the mid-century period—it's a masterpiece. If you love film noir, you pretty much have to watch it. Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid had its premiere at the USA Film Festival in early May, but was released nationally today in 1982.
Alan Ladd plays white knight in India.
Above: a really nice paperback cover featuring U.S. actor Alan Ladd, made for the novelization of his 1946 film noir Calcutta. If a Hollywood movie is set in any warm foreign land you can count on the white suit making an appearance. Ladd certainly looks nice in his. Sadly, with only the front cover scanned, no author listed, and the internet absolutely packed with Calcutta references, there's no chance to find out who wrote this unless we were to recognize the publisher's logo—which we don't. We generally don't share covers without complete information, but this cool item? We made an exception. Eventually someone will sell a copy of it and we'll update this post with author and publisher info. Until then, if you're interested in our musings about the film Calcutta, you can find those here.
Update: Well, we are amazed and pleased. Thirty minutes? That's the fastest ever, thanks to Rhea. She even found it on Ebay for us. The author here is Alex Morrison, the publisher is London based Hollywood Publications Limited (what is that WFP logo on the cover?—no idea), and it came out in 1947. The movie premiered in England in 1946, and novelizations usually coincide, but because the premiere was 20 December, the book can carry a 1947 copyright and still have been more or less simultaneously relesased with the film. Should we buy it? We're very tempted.
Calcutta is heavy on looks but light on substance.
We'll tell you right out that Calcutta came very close to being an excellent movie, but doesn't quite get over the hump. It deals with a trio of pilots flying cargo between India and China on fictional China International Airways. The trio, Alan Ladd, William Bendix, and John Whitney, stumble upon a highly profitable international smuggling ring and quickly find that the villains play for keeps. Along with the fliers, the film has Gail Russell as Whitney's girlfriend, and June Duprez as a slinky nightclub singer. While the exotic setting marks the film as an adventure, it also fits the brief as a film noir, particularly in Ladd's cynical and icy protagonist.
As we said, the movie isn't as good as it should be, but there are some positives. Foremost among them is Edith King as a wealthy jewel merchant. She smokes a fat cigar, the masculine affectation an unspoken but clear hint of her possible lesbianism, and with a sort of jocular grandiosity simply nails her part. Another big plus is the fact that the miniature work (used in airport scenes), elaborate sets and props, and costumed extras all make for a convincing Indian illusion—definitely needed when a movie is filmed entirely in California and Arizona (Yuma City and Tucson sometimes served as stand-ins for exotic Asian cities, for example Damascus in Humphrey Bogart's Sirocco).
On the negative side, Calcutta has two narrative problems: the head villain is immediately guessable; and Russell is asked to take on more than she can handle as an actress, particularly as the movie nears its climax. Another problem for some viewers, but not all, is that the movie has the usual issues of white-centered stories set in Asia (or Africa). However, within the fictional milieu the characters themselves seem pretty much color and culture blind, which isn't always the case with old films. Even so, the phalanxes of loyal Indian servants, and the dismissiveness with which they're treated—though that treatment is historically accurate—probably won't sit well with a portion of viewers.
Here's what to focus on: Alan Ladd. He's a great screen presence, a solid actor in the tight-lipped way you often see in period crime films, and the filmmakers were even smart enough to keep him shirtless and oiled for one scene. We swear we heard eight-decade-old sighs on the wind, or maybe that was the Pulp Intl. girlfriends. They'd never seen Ladd before, but immediately became interested in his other films. We were forced to tell them he was a shrimpy 5' 6” and they were a bit bummed. But he had it—and that's what counted. His it makes all his films watchable, but doesn't quite make this one a high ranker. Calcutta had its official world premiere in London today in 1946.
Nobody is who they seem in this crime collection.
Above are some covers from French publishers Éditions Baudelaire, specifically four entries from its collection Le Chat Noir, or Black Cat, written by various authors, and with cover art by Jacques Thibésart, who signed his work as Nik. The authors were pseudonyms too—or at least, Georges Méra and César Valentino were, which makes us pretty sure the others were, as well. Sharp eyed readers will notice that Thibésart was inspired by Hollywood's film noir wave. The first cover is definitely Dick Powell, and the male on the third cover has to be Alan Ladd from This Gun for Hire. Right? Or is that just us? Thibésart seems to have switched out Ladd's co-star Veronica Lake, though, because the female figure doesn't look anything like her. Oh, it's all such a riddle with these pen names and borrowed faces. In any case, nice art. These were all published in 1959.
It's Ho Chi Minh City (not Saigon). Why they changed it we can't say. People just liked it better that way.
This is a beautiful Spanish poster for the 1947 adventure Saigon, which opened in Madrid today in 1948. The film is one of innumerable mid-century thrillers set in foreign cities. At a time when the rest of the world was so distant and hard to reach, Hollywood fetishized it, romanticized it, and set stories wholly or partly in Mexico, Argentina, Morocco, China, Hong Kong, Martinique, and an entire atlas of other places. But today, with the rest of the world so easy to reach, Hollywood mostly tells audiences they'll be kidnapped or dismembered if they leave home. Saigon is old school. It makes viewers wish they could fly to mystical East Asia. Of course, the film's Saigon doesn't exist anymore, but the fact that Hollywood set a movie there tells you it must have been quite a place. But they say that about all the former colonial cities, don't they? Rangoon, Bombay, and Constantinople, as brilliantly eulogized in the satirical song by The Four Lads, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”
Saigon deals with two recently discharged military buddies played by Alan Ladd and Wally Cassell who decide to stay in Asia to show their terminally ill third pal a good time before he dies in a few months. The third man doesn't know he's ticketed for oblivion, which leads to problems when Veronica Lake takes a liking to him. No matter how romantic old Saigon was, only so many tropical nights and platters of French-Vietnamese fusion cuisine can distract you from the fact that the love-hate relationship between Ladd and Lake is unpalatable. To us, slapping, insults, and over-the-top meanness feels like hate-hate. But put on your retro filter and you'll find a lot of comedy in this film, thanks to motormouth quipster Cassell. Some of his lines are truly clever. It wouldn't be exaggerating to say he makes the first sixty minutes of running time watchable.
When Lake inevitably falls for Ladd even though he's been treating her like a disease for hundreds of nautical miles, you'll accept it because it's a motif in old movies—though usually managed with a lot more charm and finesse. Overall we consider Saigon recommendable, but just barely. You know what we really took away from this movie, though? What you needed to do back then was open a shop and sell white suits. You'd have made a fortune. There are more white suits here than you can count. Far more than in Casablanca or Our Man in Havana. This film will make you wonder whether you can pull off the white suit. But even if you looked okay in it where would you wear it these days? Like old Saigon, that city is gone.
Los Angeles homecoming goes awry for Alan Ladd.
The Blue Dahlia is often cited as a top film noir, but it really isn't. That didn't matter to the Hollywood movers and shakers who nominated Raymond Chandler's screenplay for an Oscar, but we suspect the nod was for stringing together hard boiled dialogue, since it certainly wasn't for stringing together a coherent plot. The movie tells the story of a vet who returns home to find his wife cheating with the shady owner of a Hollywood nightclub. When she's murdered, the husband is sought by police, but he goes fugitive and attempts to find the real killer. With pretty boy Alan Ladd in the lead, plus support from Veronica Lake, William Bendix, and the beautiful Doris Dowling, The Blue Dahlia has a lot going for it, including a cool nocturnal vibe, but a script too reliant on improbable occurrences and Lake's flat performance in a basically ornamental role keep it from being upper echelon. It's worth a watch just to see Bendix go bathouse crazy every time he hears what he calls “monkey music,” but go into it knowing there are at least twenty better films in the genre.
The city that helped inspire film noir hosts a celebration of the genre.
Above is a very nice promotional poster for the 19th Noir City Film Festival in Los Angeles, which starts this evening at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Some of the featured films include The Accused, Lady on a Train, and Chicago Deadline, and film noir buffs will have noticed that the promo art features Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd from 1942's This Gun for Hire, which is also on the slate. In fact that one opens the festival tonight as part of a double bill with Quiet Please, Murder.
Seeing the movies in the Egyptian, which opened in 1922, just adds to the authenticity of the experience. And of course film noir wouldn't be the same without Los Angeles, a city that is almost itself a character in many films. Mainly, though, we were drawn to the promo art and had to share it. It mimics the original This Gun for Hire poster, which is one of the nicer efforts from the time period and a collectible that runs upwards of $20,000 for original prints. We tried to determine who painted it and had no luck. Below we also have a couple of shots of the Egyptian, which is a place we recommend visiting if you're ever in Hollywood. You can learn more about Noir City Los Angeles at this link.
Now Joey, how many times do I have to tell you to keep your dog on a leash?
These Japanese posters were made to promote the 1953 western Shane when the movie was re-released in Japan in 1970 and again in 1975. The movie starred Alan Ladd, and he appears on the posters along with Brandon de Wilde, but for us the real star of these is the dog, Shep. In the first he's like, “Is that a squirrel?” And in the second he's wandered off and been run over by a stagecoach. You don't remember that from the movie? You need to watch it again.
It may be the second version but it’s first rate.
Above is French poster art for La Clé de verre, aka The Glass Key, the second Hollywood adaptation of Dashiell Hammet’s 1931 novel. We’ve shared other Glass Key materials, but never talked about the film. Suffice to say this Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake vehicle is excellent—much better than This Gun for Hire, which starred the same beautiful pair (Ladd and Lake appeared together in seven movies). Complicated, engrossing, and liberally spiced with excellent action and Hammett’s wit chanelled through Jonathan Latimer's screenplay—“My first wife was a second cook at a third rate joint on Fourth Street”—The Glass Key is mandatory viewing. It’s also interesting for its cynical look at American politics, portrayed as corrupt, built on lies, and fueled by legalized bribery. That much hasn’t changed. The first Glass Key was made in 1935 with George Raft in the lead, but this remake from 1942 is the one to watch. Its French premiere, delayed for years due to World War II and its aftermath, was today in 1948.
Glass Key paperback art is tops thanks to another Italian master.
Alan Ladd, Brian Donlevy, and Veronica Lake’s film noir The Glass Key, which was Hollywood’s second try at Dashiell Hammett’s novel, premiered this month in 1942. To be exact, it opened yesterday in New York City and throughout the U.S. on October 23. The poster most often seen online is the theatrical release version we showed you several years ago, but alternates were produced and two of them appear below. What we really wanted to share, though, is this great paperback cover from UK-based Digit Books. It’s from 1961 and features the art of Italian illustrator Enrico de Seta, who we’ve mentioned before. If you haven’t watched The Glass Key we recommend it, and if you haven’t read the book, just know that it was Hammett’s personal favorite.
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