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.
In The Killers she's absolutely to die for.
We've shared Swedish, French, Australian, and U.S. promo art for The Killers over the years. But there was more than one U.S. poster, and you see an alternate version above, a nice crimson effort that has no artist credit. You already know the plot of this film, so we won't rehash it, but we wanted to single out something we love about film noir—the spectacular entrance of the femme fatale. Remember Rita Hayworth's first screen moment in Gilda? “Gilda, are you decent?” “Me?” That might be tops. Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, those white shorts and that weird headwrap. Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not. “Got a light?” There are many others, and men sometimes get good entrances too, but Ava Gardner's first moment in The Killers, sitting at a piano in a swank Manhattan apartment, with that light—you know the light we mean—glowing on her face, is another great example. Then she gets a song. You gotta love it.
When I'm a really big star there'll be a photo retoucher to make sure I have perfect armpits.
This scan made from a 35-millimeter slide shows Hungary born actress Ava Norring, who had exactly one credited role—that of Beatrice in 1952's The Snows of Kilimajaro, in which she appeared with her more famous namesake Ava Gardner. She later was featured in an eight page Esquire photo essay published in July 1955, but stardom was not to be. We love this shot, underarm razor burn and all. We haven't seen The Snows of Kilimajaro, but we're curious about it. The 1936 Ernest Hemingway work upon which it's loosely based is a short story (touching on standard Hemingway themes we discussed a while back), and it's always interesting to see how filmmakers flesh out something so slight. We'll get to the movie at some point, see both Avas in action, and probably report back.
No one's gonna save you from the beast about to strike.
Burt Lancaster as a doomed boxer named Ole Anderson, shot dead one night by a couple of hit men, is a seminal character in film noir. He epitomizes the major characteristic of the genre, that of a person caught in dangerous circumstances beyond their control. He's so caught he never tries to run or defend himself. He lets the killers shoot him. We didn't spoil anything by telling you that—Anderson is dead ten minutes after the movie opens. Using Ernest Hemingway's short story of the same name as a starting place, The Killers takes a typical endpoint for a film noir and flips the timeline around so that the drama becomes finding out why Anderson suffered such a hopeless demise. Sunset Boulevard would pull the same trick later in visionary fashion by having the dead character actually narrate the movie. We've shown you several posters for The Killers, but this one made for the Australian market is, well, killer. Compare it to the U.S. promo here. The movie premiered in Australia today in 1947.
George Raft and Ava Gardner are lost in tepid 1946 drama.
A whistle stop, for any who don't know, is a term for a small town, a place where a train pulls in for a few minutes before moving on. 1946's Whistle Stop is based on Maritta M. Wolff's acclaimed novel, published when she was just twenty-two. It was not only acclaimed, but controversial, as its frank language scandalized bluenoses of the era.
In the film, Ava Gardner returns from Chicago to her whistle stop home town and gets tangled up up with her ex, George Raft, who's a gambler and all around shady guy. Tom Conway has feelings for Gardner and hates Raft, and the rivalry leads to big trouble as both try to win Ava's affections. She doesn't help the situation with her fickleness. Each time Raft makes her mad she turns to Conway. Nothing good can result when hearts are used as toys.
This is another one of those old films that, because it has some night scenes and a partial crime focus, is labeled on some sites as a film noir. That's way off and you'll be disappointed if you watch it expecting noir. It's actually a melodrama, with star-crossed lovers, sweet violins, and a dance sequence set to the 1848 folk classic “Oh, Susanna.” Even Variety at the time called it “heavy melodrama.” There's a heist in the film, but heists happened in the movies before, after, and outside film noir. Raft is supposed to take part in the robbery, which as a bonus would result in the death of his rival Conway. Think things work out as planned? Not quite. We wanted to like Whistle Stop, because Gardner is ravishing, but it's not up to the standard of most old films. It premiered today in 1946.
She was one of the most watched people in the world—onscreen and off.
Whisper magazine, in this issue published this month in 1961, offers readers an interesting story about an unnamed millionaire's obsession with Ava Gardner. Apparently the millionaire hired people to follow Gardner around 24/7, all over the world, and report back to him, with this surveillance going on for years. The purpose? If he couldn't have her, he at least wanted to know what she was doing. Whisper focuses on a particular spy named Bill, the fourth of four spies employed by the millionaire, who Gardner came to be friends with and let live on her property, rather than have to sleep in his car night after night. Is this tale true? Maybe. Money buys a lot—including tolerance for bad behavior.
And speaking money, there's also a story on gangster Mickey Cohen, who counted among his consorts Liz Renay and Candy Barr, both of whom we've discussed, Renay here, and Barr here and here. Barr has also shown up in five magazines we've posted. The easiest way to see those is click her keywords and scroll. Cohen proves that no matter what people try to tell you, money is an aphrodisiac, because there's no way trolls like him could score beautiful dancers and models if it weren't for wealth. Take a look at the worst man in the world, and if he has money, he has a wife far more beautiful than makes sense.
Whisper goes on to talk about Burt Lancaster's and Charlie Chaplin's lovers, teen-age drunks, Soviet honeytraps, U.S. prisons, Jane Fonda's professional and family lives, and more. It was a Robert Harrison publication that morphed from a cheesecake magazine with painted pin-up covers into a gossip rag. That happened around 1954, when the original Whisper, launched in 1946, began going broke thanks to an inability to compete with girly magazine numero uno—Playboy. But there was plenty of room in the tabloid market and Harrison made Whisper a staple monthly on par with Confidential, his flagship publication. We'll have more from Whisper later, as always.
Gardner and MacMurray juggle love and danger in wartime Malaysia.
We talked about the 1947 war adventure Singapore in August. Here's a beautiful Italian poster for the film, on which co-star Ava Gardner takes front and center, with Fred MacMurray lurking in the background. There are several Italian promos. This one is by Zadro, who painted a number of other brilliant pieces, but about whom little is known today. We'll get back to him. And you can read more about the movie here.
If at first you don't succeed, fly back to Malaysia and try again.
In the movies good girls always seem to fall for bad boys. In the World War II drama Singapore Ava Gardner is the former and Fred MacMurray is the latter, a smuggler of jewels. The two hook up in the titular locale, and when Gardner learns her new love is a crook, she accepts it with a rhetorical shrug. She asks merely if Fred is what the authorities suspect him to be, receives an affirmative answer, then asks if he can't sell jewels legally, receives the answer, “Yes, but at a quarter the price,” and that's it. She doesn't trouble her mind beyond that point, which we consider a major failing of Seton I. Miller's script.
It isn't the only failing. When it comes to areas of love and desire, the dripping melodrama of the dialogue puts MacMurray and Gardner in tough spots, and neither comes out unscathed. The good news is that in other areas Singapore fares better. The film weaves the tale of how MacMurray's plan to smuggle priceless pearls is cut short when the Japanese unexpectedly bomb the city. The love story, the smuggling plot, and the bombing are all told in reminiscence, bracketed front and rear by MacMurray's return five years after the tragedies and errors of his previous stint there. Now, with the city recovering from conflict, MacMurray tries to put together the puzzle pieces of the past.
We love old Hollywood's foreign fetish, its eagerness to set films in exotic locales. When it works well, as in Casablanca and its deft usage of Morocco, the result is magic; when it doesn't, as in, say, Miss Sadie Thompson and its setting of Pago Pago, the bells and whistles are a glaring reminder of missed opportunities. Singapore falls somewhere in the middle. We get to see a bit of Singapore when it was still part of Malaysia, which is interesting, but the most exotic sight to be seen is still Ava Gardner. For us, she was reason enough to take the trip. But just barely. Singapore premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
Mickey Rooney proves that no hurdle is too high.
This photo of Ava Gardner enjoying a dance with Mickey Rooney was made in 1941 or 1942, and the first thing you notice is their difference in height. Rooney was a big star at the time, while Gardner was a Hollywood neophyte years away from her first lead role. Even so, rumors of her beauty had spread around town, so you can assume she had her pick of men. And her pick was Rooney. Who she could have used to pick her teeth. The marriage didn't last long—a little more than a year. You might assume Gardner saw greener and taller pastures elsewhere, but it was actually Rooney who couldn't keep his private parts from the public. He screwed around like a bonobo monkey, and even romped in his and Gardner's bed while she was in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy. Gardner said about him, “He went through the ladies like a hot knife through fudge.” Indeed, he melted Gardner early along the road to eight marriages and eleven children. Gardner married a mere three times, and was only thirty-five when she divorced her third husband, Frank Sinatra, and never took the plunge again.
They always get the best seat in the house.
Below, a collection of film stars, in Hollywood and other places, looking large and in charge while seated in director's chairs. In panel three the actress in the “Bonanza's guest” chair is Karen Sharpe. We don't expect you'll need help with the others, but if so our keywords list them in order.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1937—Amelia Earhart Disappears
Amelia Earhart fails to arrive at Howland Island during her around the world flight, prompting a search for her and navigator Fred Noonan in the South Pacific Ocean. No wreckage and no bodies are ever found.
1964—Civil Rights Bill Becomes Law
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Bill into law, which makes the exclusion of African-Americans from elections, schools, unions, restaurants, hotels, bars, cinemas and other public institutions and facilities illegal. A side effect of the Bill is the immediate reversal of American political allegiance, as most southern voters abandon the Democratic Party for the Republican Party.
1997—Jimmy Stewart Dies
Beloved actor Jimmy Stewart, who starred in such films as Rear Window and Vertigo, dies at age eighty-nine at his home in Beverly Hills, California of a blood clot in his lung.
1941—NBC Airs First Official TV Commercial
NBC broadcasts the first TV commercial to be sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC began licensing commercial television stations in May 1941, granting the first license to NBC. During a Dodgers-Phillies game broadcast July 1, NBC ran its first commercial, from Bulova, who paid $9 to advertise its watches.
1963—Kim Philby Named as Spy
The British Government admits that former high-ranking intelligence diplomat Kim Philby had worked as a Soviet agent. Philby was a member of the spy ring now known as the Cambridge Five, along with Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross. Of the five, Philby is believed to have been most successful in providing classified information to the Soviet Union. He defected to Russia, was feted as a hero and even given his commemorative stamp, before dying in 1988 at the age of seventy-six.
1997—Robert Mitchum Dies
American actor Robert Mitchum dies in his home in Santa Barbara, California. He had starred in films such as Out of the Past, Blood on the Moon
, and Night of the Hunter
, was called "the soul of film noir," and had a reputation for coolness
that would go unmatched until Frank Sinatra arrived on the scene.
1908—Tunguska Explosion Occurs
Near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai in Russia, a large meteoroid or comet explodes at five to ten kilometers above the Earth's surface with a force of about twenty megatons of TNT. The explosion is a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic blast, knocks over an estimated 80 million trees and generates a shock wave estimated to have been 5.0 on the Richter scale.
1971—Soviet Cosmonauts Perish
Soviet cosmonauts Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev, who served as the first crew of the world's first space station Salyut 1, die when their spacecraft Soyuz 11 depressurizes during preparations for re-entry. They are the only humans to die in space (as opposed to the upper atmosphere).
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