We get to the beach so rarely, shame to waste the trip. Who's up for a swim before we haul this stiff to the morgue?
Today in 1954 a man named Nathaniel Smith who was walking on Venice Beach in Los Angeles spotted something floating in the surf behind the breakwater of the old Venice Pier. He waded into the ocean and discovered the something was a person. Smith pulled him to shore, but the man was already dead, a victim not of drowning but of a gunshot wound to the head. Was he a murder victim or a suicide? There's no info available on that, nor on his identity. Whoever he was, we bet he never could have imagined thousands of people would be looking at photos of him nearly a lifetime later. We're doing that thanks to the University of Southern California, which holds these and tens of thousands of other images in its archive of Los Angeles Examiner press photos. You can see many more shots from the collection by clicking its keywords below.
And definitely not touched for the very first time.
Porn influences American culture—think VHS winning out over Betamax, body waxing/lasering, live chatting, the widespread acceptance of oral sex, etc—but on rare occasions it's the other way around. Fashion designers had played around with inner wear as outer wear for decades, and Madonna, through her association with the fashion industry, popularized the trend beginning in 1983. In the above photo beautiful porn legend Ginger Lynn channels Madonna and looks mighty good doing it. In fact, she's got Madonna so down you almost expect her to break into “Like a Virgin,” which would be a highly ironic version of the song. The shot was made in 1985 during the filming of her x-rated hit A Coming of Angels. She's no angel, though. There's only one Angel. But being Ginger is just fine—there's only one of her too. See another nice photo of her here.
The walls close in on a cop and his witness in a trainbound crime thriller.
Another b-movie makes good, as inexpensive little film noir The Narrow Margin turns out to be an excellent expenditure of time. It's built around a great premise—tough cop Charles McGraw is tasked with escorting the widow of a gang lord from Chicago to Los Angeles to testify in a graft probe. A shadowy cabal of crooks plans to stop this at all costs, so the question is whether McGraw can get his witness to L.A. alive.
The widow/femme fatale is played by Marie Windsor of the cool Kubrick noir The Killing and the not-cool prison break thriller Swamp Women, and here she has a role perfectly suited for her as a jaded and selfish mobster's moll. She oozes cynicism as McGraw tries to reconcile his hatred for her with his duty as a public servant, but there's more to her than he knows, and Jacqueline White as another passenger is full of surprises too.
With much of the film taking place in the various cars and compartments of a train, the visuals and title mirror each other, and the same is true thematically, as the killers slowly close in, creating increasingly constrained circumstances for McGraw. With clever noir stylings, a plot that draws you in from the first minutes, and a surprising switcheroo, The Narrow Margin is a winner. It was remade in 1990 with Gene Hackman and Anne Archer, but the first and better version premiered in the U.S. today in 1952.
There's never a RoboCop when you need one.
The city of Detroit recently rejected a statue of the main character from 1987's RoboCop, made by a local artist group and meant to be displayed at the city's Michigan Science Center. Seizing the opportunity, the mayor of Stevens Point, Wisconsin—which is where RoboCop star Peter Weller was born—has offered a place for the statue in the town of 26,000. Mayor Mike Wiza called the artists, as well as Peter Weller's family. in a so-far unsuccessful attempt to secure the figure. The story amused us because, though on the surface the statue seems like a fitting public monument for Weller's hometown, we wonder if Mayor Wiza knows that RoboCop, aside from being a very good movie, is director Paul Verhoeven's dark satire of the U.S.
The movie hits on several areas, including policing and television culture, but most particularly it's a cautionary epic about the power of corporations. It made the prediction, also made by others, that all life would soon be controlled by corporations, and by extension the unelected, megarich heads of those entities. Those who doubt we've reached this point should read up on private prisons, or Citizen's United v. FEC, or Facebook's recent attempt to punish the entire country of Australia by slapping it with a news ban.
RoboCop goes on to posit that corporations allowed to grow and spread unchecked inevitably make the business decision to place profit above human lives. It didn't mean lives in some distant corner of the globe, or some urban niche of Detroit, where the movie was set. That was already clear. The movie's incisive subtext was that the lives of middle Americans—the very people who live in Stevens Point—would soon be deemed expendable too.
When movies like this pop up they create a paradox: people generally won't watch social critique films unless they're violent and/or funny, but when they're violent and/or funny the majority of people don't get the critiques, even when those are obvious. Examples: Starship Troopers (also a Verhoeven film), Being There (which starred Dr. Strangelove's Peter Sellers), 2019's Us (whose unspoken but glaringly obvious alternative title is, “U.S.”), and, to cite a particularly clear-cut example of blunt satire, They Live, which a substantial minority of filmgoers still managed to think of as merely a strange and slow-moving sci-fi invasion flick.
It's possible Mayor Wiza knows exactly what RoboCop is about, but simply can't pass up the chance to plant something in the town square that will bring gawkers and Instagramers to local restaurants and add warm bodies to the yearly artwalk. If he succeeds, in public he'll hail his coup as an economic victory for his administration (though mainly for the town, always the town first). But later he'll stand at a window in city hall, looking down at RoboCop, nodding thoughtfully as he explains to some nearby aide, “The ironic part of turning that statue into a public monument is that RoboCop, aside from being a very good movie, is director Paul Verhoeven's dark satire of the U.S.”
Let's see, I'll need one bullet for my blackmailer... one for my betrayer... a couple for his henchmen...
Above is a rare promo poster for the film noir Cry Danger, starring the ever reliable Dick Powell, face of such classic winners as Pitfall and Cornered. In this one he plays a criminal tossed into prison for a robbery and murder he didn't commit, but who's released when someone provides the courts with an alibi. To Powell's surprise, this rescuer isn't someone he knows, but rather an opportunist who figures to benefit when Powell goes after the hidden holdup loot. Powell, though, really didn't commit the crime. He was framed, so he goes about trying to clear his name. Since that necessarily means locating the cash, he finds himself an unwilling and unlikely asset of the police, who are following him night and day. That's a good set-up for a movie, and with competent acting assured thanks to Powell's participation, along with that of Rhonda Fleming and William Conrad, you end up with a solid film noir that generates all the anticipated darkness and personal disaster. The movie looks good too, thanks to first time director Robert Parrish and cinematographer Joseph F. Biroc. Much of it is set in a Bunker Hill trailer park with a nice view over Los Angeles, including Chinatown. Two thumbs up on this. IMDB and AFI disagree on the premiere date, but we'll go with IMDB because it specifically mentions the premieres took place in New York City and Birmingham, Alabama. That was today in 1951
There's not much you can do when the river runs dry.
Above is a vintage photo taken in the concrete basin of the Los Angeles River showing police detectives standing near an unidentified corpse. Some websites call this a suicide, but if you look closely you can see that the body is pretty far from the bridge. If this person committed suicide, it wasn't by jumping. The photo first became publicly known thanks to a photographic 2019 exhibition by the Lucie Foundation, which shared 79 other shots of a similar type. They all came from a collection of about 2,000 photos taken by LAPD personnel between 1925 and the mid-1970s. This is a lonely end for a man, which the handwritten date tells us was today in 1955.
Does this look like the face of a homicidal maniac?
Above are two nice posters for the film noir Angel Face, starring Jean Simmons as an incredibly sneaky nineteen-year-old who wants to kill her stepmother, and Robert Mitchum as a hapless chauffeur who finds himself sucked into the plot. The movie opened in the U.S. today in 1953. The bottom poster, made to look like a tabloid cover, in true tabloid style gives everything away. We debated posting it, but decided to do it for historical purposes, because this is the only promo poster we've ever seen that explicitly gives away the ending of the film it promotes. Is it still worth watching? We think so.
It took nature millions of years to evolve the bikini body. And a costume designer one movie to exploit it.
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth was part of a short trend of ’60s/’70s films that defied science and showed dinosaurs and humans living together. In this case, one of the humans was beautiful star Victoria Vetri, aka Angela Dorian. The movie would be perfect entertainment for creationists, except it's also procreationist—i.e. there's nudity and sex in it. The very religious may not like cinematic skin, but in our book the movie is a natural selection for an evening's entertainment. This promo poster is similar to the Japanese promo we showed you several years ago, but even rarer. In addition all three female co-stars—Vetri, Imogen Hassall, and Magda Konopka—get life-sized promo posters, seen below. These items are real gems.
Here's a bit of trivia. Efx duo Jim Danforth and Roger Dicken earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects, and we don't mean for the fur bikinis. We know—it's hard to believe the movie won anything except the eternal disdain of evolutionary scientists, but it was a box office hit partly thanks to Danforth and Dicken's miniature stop action work. We guess Vetri and company had a little something to do with it too. Check the movie out sometime. It's fun, whether your preference in partly clothed actors runs to male, female, or both. After opening in England in 1970, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth premiered in the U.S. today in 1971. You can read more about it here and here.
Sheena embarks a day late on a long journey.
This photo shows U.S. actress Tanya Roberts in character as Sheena in her 1984 lost world flick Sheena, riding what we suspect is a white horse dyed to look like a zebra, and we were going to make an excuse to share it eventually because it's an amazing image. Unfortunately, it became relevant because Roberts died last week. Bizarrely, it happened a day after her announced death. Somehow her publicist told the world she had died, then learned in the middle of an interview that her employer was still alive. Then Roberts died the next day. That's a new one as far as we know. In any case, she looks goddesslike in this photo, and will be remembered for her roles in the James Bond film A View to a Kill and the television series Charlie's Angels (third iteration). Fare thee well, Sheena.
Which is louder—his shotgun or his wardrobe?
Above you see two posters for the blaxploitation flick Hit Man, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1972 and stars NFL player-turned-actor Bernie Casey as a man from Oakland who blows into L.A. to investigate his brother's murder. His brother ran a used car lot, but had gotten on the bad side of some local criminals. How he did that, who these bad people are, and what they're up to are the questions at the crux of the narrative, and when Casey finally learns the truth he's horrified and infuriated in equal measure, which turns him into a leisure-suited revenant with murder in his eyes and a gun in his hands.
What is neither horrifying nor infuriating is that Pam Grier is in this, which makes it a must watch in our book, and she holds nothing back, sporting a quantum leap forward in afro science, and proving once again that she was a fearless performer. Nevertheless, she and Casey can't make Hit Man good despite their best efforts. But on the other hand, it isn't awful either, and in the middle isn't a bad place to be in b-cinema, considering how deeply terrible the films can get.
Hit Man has a couple of miscellaneous notes of interest. A bit of filming takes place at Watts Towers, Simon Rodia's italo folk art monument that was designated a historic site in 1990. We've seen the place in person and we loved it because its mosaics reminded us of the type you see on modernist architecture in Barcelona. The production photo of Grier in a long black dress, below, was shot at the site. It's one of the most famous images of her, and one of the most badass too.
Hit Man also makes use of a location called Africa America, an open air animal preserve of the type made famous by Tiger King. We can't find any trace online that it ever existed, so there's no way to know for sure whether it was a real zoo, an MGM set, or something in between, such as a private ranch dressed up for filming. But it plays an important role in the plot, as do its hungry lions. If they'd eaten a few of the worst script pages, and a couple of bad supporting actors, and maybe Casey's purple leisure suit, Hit Man might be better than just okay. But lions are finicky like all cats, and most amateur film critics.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1974—Police Raid SLA Headquarters
In the U.S., Los Angeles police raid the headquarters of the revolutionary group the Symbionese Liberation Army, resulting in the deaths of six members. The SLA had gained international notoriety by kidnapping nineteen-year old media heiress Patty Hearst
from her Berkeley, California apartment, an act which precipitated her participation in an armed bank robbery.
1978—Charlie Chaplin's Missing Body Is Found
Eleven weeks after it was disinterred and stolen from a grave in Corsier near Lausanne, Switzerland, Charlie Chaplin's corpse is found by police. Two men—Roman Wardas, a 24-year-old Pole, and Gantscho Ganev, a 38-year-old Bulgarian—are convicted in December of stealing the coffin and trying to extort £400,000 from the Chaplin family.
1918—U.S. Congress Passes the Sedition Act
In the U.S., Congress passes a set of amendments to the Espionage Act called the Sedition Act, which makes "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces, as well as language that causes foreigners to view the American government or its institutions with contempt, an imprisonable offense. The Act specifically applies only during times of war, but later is pushed by politicians as a possible peacetime law, specifically to prevent political uprisings in African-American communities. But the Act is never extended and is repealed entirely in 1920.
1905—Las Vegas Is Founded
Las Vegas, Nevada is founded when 110 acres of barren desert land in what had once been part of Mexico are auctioned off to various buyers. The area sold is located in what later would become the downtown section of the city. From these humble beginnings Vegas becomes the most populous city in Nevada, an internationally renowned resort for gambling, shopping, fine dining and sporting events, as well as a symbol of American excess. Today Las Vegas remains one of the fastest growing municipalities in the United States.
1928—Mickey Mouse Premieres
The animated character Mickey Mouse, along with the female mouse Minnie, premiere in the cartoon Plane Crazy, a short co-directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. This first cartoon was poorly received, however Mickey would eventually go on to become a smash success, as well as the most recognized symbol of the Disney empire.
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