Some guys just can't catch a break.
The Breaking Point is the second of three Hollywood adaptations of Ernest Hemingway's novel To Have and Have Not, and it's a very good one. You're already starting from an advantageous point when you have John Garfield in the starring role. He could act, and this part requires quite a bit from him. This was his next-to-last movie—he would be dead two years later, victim of a congenital heart problem, exacerbated by high stress, reportedly from his blacklisting that was the result efforts by commie hunters.
Casablanca director Michael Curtiz is on board here too, and he does a masterful job bringing the story to life. Curtiz, or Warner Brothers, or both, decided to transplant the novel's action from Cuba to Newport Beach, but the theme of a man caught in untenable economic circumstances remains. Those who wanted a reasonably faithful adaptation of Hemingway's story got it in this film. The first version, also called To Have and Have Not, was amazing but had little in common with the source material. The third adaptation, The Gun Runners, was also good but downplayed certain political themes. (There's also an Iranian version we haven't seen and which we'll leave aside for now.) So, which of the three U.S. versions is best? Is it really a competition? They're all compulsively watchable, but this effort with Garfield is the grittiest by far, and the most affecting. It's strange—To Have and Have Not is supposed to be Hemingway's worst book, but with three good movies made from it, maybe it isn't that bad after all. Perhaps because it's a work from one of the most influential authors ever to write in English, the bar was just set too high. Maybe it really is Hemingway at his worst, but personally we think it's very good. The Breaking Point premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.
Who does she ruin? Anyone who gets in her way.
Letícia Román was born in Rome as Letizia Novarese, but launched her film career in the most American way imaginable—in an Elvis Presley movie. That was G.I.Blues, which she followed with such films as La ragazza che sapeva troppo, aka The Evil Eye, Russ Meyer's Fanny Hill, and The Spy in the Green Hat. Román never became a big star, but we think this photo is major. It was made as a promo for the 1966 movie Comando de asesinos.
When someone says they're playing the role of their life they usually mean it figuratively.
This nice photo shows actress and singer Li Xianglan, aka Li Hsiang-lan, and based on her name you'd guess she's Chinese, but she was actually Japanese and her real name was Yoshiko Yamaguchi. Early in her career the Manchukuo Film Association noted that she had grown up in Manchuria and was fluent in Mandarin, so they decided to hide her Japanese origin, which made it possible for her to star in Japanese films posing as Chinese. The purpose was to make films promoting certain Japanese ideologies, disseminated onscreen by someone the Chinese public saw as one of their own. In other words, at a time when Japan had invaded and occupied part of China, she starred in propaganda films.
The ruse wasn't perfect. People Xianglan worked with figured out she was Japanese, but the Chinese public didn't know until 1946, when she was arrested after the Second Sino-Japanese War as a collaborator. She avoided execution only by revealing her Japanese identity to the Chinese court. It's a long and interesting story, but we won't get into it here. We'll note, though, that her tale didn't end there. She became a journalist in the 1950s using the name Yoshiko Otaka, and was elected to the Japanese parliament in 1974, where she served eighteen years. Quite an autobiography. The photo above was made to promote her 1957 film Shénmì měirén, aka Lady of Mystery. Indeed.
The temperature in the Amazon just keeps going up.
This remarkable Japanese poster was made to promote a film called 空手アマゾネス, which was originally released in Italy as Le Amazzoni - Donne d'amore e di guerra, and also known in English as Battle of the Amazons, The 100 Fighting Amazons, and Karate Amazons. It was also known in Japan as Karate Amazones, as you can see by looking at the poster. It starred Lincoln Tate, Paola Tedesco, and Solvi Stubing, and that looks like Tedesco on the art getting some relief from the heat by going shirtless. We talked about this movie long ago. Feel free to have a look here. It was originally released in 1973, and reached Japan today in 1974.
Brand new prison, same old problems.
The sixth and final entry in the Female Prisoner 701 series was Shin joshuu sasori: Tokushu-bô X, known in English as New Female Prisoner Scorpion: Special Cellblock X. It starred Yôko Natsuki as a woman stuck in a hellhole prison where the warden is incompetent, the guards are corrupt, and the other prisoners are hateful. The movie opens with her being returned to confinement after an escape. Via flashbacks we're told how she was originally jailed, flew the coop, but was wounded and caught. Now she's singled out for cruel treatment by both her jailers and her peers, the former group due to the damage her escape caused their reputations, the latter group due to the extra punishment meted out as an escape deterrent. All of this already makes for a chaotic prison, but hell truly breaks loose when a new head of security arrives to “reinforce discipline.” That would be this guy:
Doesn't exactly look like Department of Corrections material does he? He brings in a regime of humiliation and torture that would impress even a CIA waterboarder, but finds himself at odds with the old head of security. The conflict eventually sees one of them dethroned, which makes him an unlikely ally for Natsuki. These two—the abused and her former abuser—plot an escape from the isolated prison and are soon fleeing over a barren wasteland chained together like the Wild Ones, while chased by guards and German Shepherds. Natsuki, who was given her first starring role here (the first four movies in the series starred Meiko Kaji, and the fifth starred Yumi Takigawa), may have been hired solely because she can make steely eyes:
That's an almost Eastwood level of flintiness. When we try that look on the Pulp Intl. girlfriends they ask if we've got sand in our eyes. Even in the throes of action or torture Natsuki never drops her mask. Her expression says, “I get to kill you eventually, asshole. It's in the script.” Anyway, the last third of the movie is a pure escape thriller, but you'll get no hints from us whether Natsuki triumphs. On the whole, we think this is a solid enough women-in-prison entry, though the consensus among pinku aficionados is that it doesn't hold a candle to the Meiko Kaji episodes. We'd have to watch those again to form an opinion on that, but why make it a competition? Just watch them all. Shin joshuu sasori: Tokushu-bô X premiered in Japan today in 1977.
When Jim Brown stands his ground an entire city is turned upside down.
This Japanese poster was made to promote the U.S. blaxploitation flick Black Gunn, which in Japan was called スーパー・ガン, or “Super Gun.” The U.S. promo for the movie is nice too, but we prefer this version. Black Gunn starred Jim Brown as a Los Angeles nightclub owner whose little brother rips off the mob and stashes the cash in Brown's office safe. Little brother has also stolen and stashed ledgers containing information that could bring down the entire organized crime apparatus. Naturally, the mob comes looking and they aren't subtle about their methods. A few beatings and threats elicit some useful information, and pretty soon they're knocking on the door of Gunn's Club, as Brown's joint is called. Think his little brother is going to survive all this? If he did, you wouldn't get to see vengeful Jim beat, kick, and blast various members of mafia west.
Brown is usually a passable actor, no worse than average for action movies of the period, but here he seems to be sleepwalking, along with every other cast member apart from head villain Martin Landau. Brenda Sykes in particular seems to be adrift about a hundred nautical miles offshore. We chalk these performances up to a rushed production, but the good news is the action is explosive, so the film isn't a total waste of time. Plus it has Bernie Casey, and we'll watch him in anything. He had a palpable cool that should have been bottled and sold. Black Gunn premiered in the U.S. today in 1972.
Adventure magazine takes a look at what the better half is doing.
We've written a lot about vintage men's adventure magazines. Today the tables turn. Above you see the cover of a May 1956 issue of True Woman's Adventures. We're not going to kid you, though—it's still a men's magazine. Easiest way to tell? There are no photos of studs in bathing suits. But even though this women's magazine is really a men's magazine, it at least celebrates rugged women, with stories on bullfighter Patricia McCormick, French aviator Maryse Bastié, and explorer/travel writer Ginger Lamb. We'd like to do a deep dive into their biographies, but it'll have to wait for another day.
Some of the articles here are also written by women, with credits given to Carole Lewis, Jean Mayfield, Christine Herman, and Peggy Converse. This was the debut issue of True Woman's Adventures, but unfortunately, the only one. Was it always intended to be a one-off? We don't know. The cover was painted by George Giguere, whose signature you can see at lower left. Even so, we're amazed Mark Schneider didn't paint it—the style is so close. Check what we mean here. And check out the thirty scans below. As always, we have more adventure magazines to come.
The hat doesn't match the swimsuit, but it'll come in handy if she needs to be spotted by air rescue.
You saw a photo of Italian beauty Nuccia Cardinali not long ago, but when you make shots as nice as hers a return engagement is mandatory. The last one showed her lighting up the French Riviera as a blonde, while this brunette image shows her— Well, we have no idea where she is, and maybe she doesn't either. The shot was only published, as far as we know, as part of a series of cheesecake postcards in the mid-1960s. Cardinali thrived in unusual media. She began her career in photo novels, which were a mainly European phenomenon, and basically were comic books with posed photos instead of illustrations. She karate chopped and headlocked her way through sixty-nine of those, then graduated to singing and released several singles in 1968. She had already acted sporadically beginning in 1964, and had a steady run on the silver screen from 1971 to 1975, when she had eight credited roles, including in 1974's Lo strano ricatto di una ragazza perbene, aka Blackmail, and 1975's La tigre venuta dal fiume Kwai, aka Tiger from the River Kwai. We have a few other interesting photos of her, so maybe we'll get back to her in a bit.
Hear that? Sounds like the approach of my next sexual conquest. Just grab your things and head out the side door.
Sean Connery died a few days ago at age ninety, so we think it's a good time to share a rarity we'd been hoarding for a while. Connery and Luciana Paluzzi star on the cover of this Japanese edition of Ian Fleming's James Bond thriller 007/Sandâbôru sakusen, better known to the world as Thunderball. This was put out by Hayakawa Books as a movie tie-in just before the film hit Japan in December 1965. Fleming originally published it in 1961 as a novelization of an unfilmed-at-the-time Bond screenplay by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ivar Bryce, and Ernest Cuneo. That's a lot of people, and unsurprisingly there was rancor involved in who got credited before a court settled the issue. This is an awesome find, and the rear cover is interesting too. We'll have more rare Bond items a little later.
It's just another case of Bardot being Bardot.
We don't know why, but Japanese posters of Brigitte Bardot movies are always beautiful. We've shared them from four films: Cette sacrée gamine, Une parisienne, La bride sur le cou, and Manina la fille sans voile. All are frameworthy. But today's poster for En effeuillant la marguerite might be the best so far. If you frame this one you'll need a transparent wall, because the rear is interesting too, as you see below. In Japan the movie was called 裸で御免なさい, which means something like “sorry for being naked,” but its English title was Plucking the Daisy. This led to us discovering that the French name Marguerite means daisy. You learn something new every day. The film was also called Mademoiselle Striptease, but we prefer the former, because Bardot always shows plenty of pluck.
Here she plays a rebellious young daisy who secretly publishes racy writing, but is outed to her authoritarian father, runs away to Paris, ends up in dire straits, and tries to make ends meet by winning an amateur striptease contest. Does she manage to generate the funds? Well, you can be sure she generates the fun. She does the sex kitten thing with a breezy verve matched only by Marilyn Monroe, the men stumble-swoon-fall over themselves with lust, and it's all pretty cute. Could the movie headline a film seminar on the objectification of women in mid-century media? Absolutely. But even in that seminar En effeuillant la marguerite would generate a few smiles. It premiered in France in 1956, and reached Japan today in 1959.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—China Detonates Nuke
At the Lop Nur test site located between the Taklamakan and Kuruktag deserts, the People's Republic of China detonates its first nuclear weapon, codenamed 596 after the month of June 1959, which is when the program was initiated.
1996—Handgun Ban in the UK
In response to a mass shooting in Dunblane, Scotland that kills 16 children, the British Conservative government announces a law to ban all handguns, with the exception .22 caliber target pistols. When Labor takes power several months later, they extend the ban to all handguns.
Pierre Laval, who was the premier of Vichy, France, which had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, is shot by a firing squad for treason. In subsequent years it emerges that Laval may have considered himself a patriot whose goal was to publicly submit to the Germans while doing everything possible behind the scenes to thwart them. In at least one respect he may have succeeded: fifty percent of French Jews survived the war, whereas in other territories about ninety percent perished.
1966—Black Panthers Form
In the U.S., in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther political party. The Panthers are active in American politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but eventually legal troubles combined with a schism over the direction of the party lead to its dissolution.
1962—Cuban Missile Crisis Begins
A U-2 spy plane flight over the island of Cuba produces photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed. Though American missiles have been installed near Russia, the U.S. decides that no such weapons will be tolerated in Cuba. The resultant standoff brings the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of war. The crisis finally ends with a secret deal in which the U.S. removes its missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing the Cuban weapons.
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