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.
These mystical lion statues are supposed to bring good luck and fortune. I'm making this one my agent.
This elegant photo of June Duprez with a Chinese guardian lion was made when she was filming the drama Calcutta. According to tradition these lions ward off malign influences, and no wonder she's hanging onto it. She was born in England during World War I on a night when Germans were bombing her town. She survived and went on to make a mark in Hollywood, appearing in films like The Thief of Baghdad and Little Tokyo, U.S.A., but due to various factors her career stalled, and she found herself broke and cut off from family money back home due to the chaos of World War II. She made it through this second unstable period—no info on whether the lion helped—but her film career never recovered. Even so, we find her to be an impressive screen presence. We've heard that her best movie may be the 1945 mystery And Then There Were None, so we're going to check that out. This photo is from 1946.
It was a year to remember.
Above is a photo of Manhattan, New York City, in the year 1947, looking from Battery Park toward midtown. Here you see everything—the Staten Island Ferry Building at bottom, Wall Street to the right, the 59th Street Bridge crossing Welfare Island at upper right, and in the hazy distance, the Empire State Building—at that time arguably America’s most recognized symbol. In the aftermath of a war that had destroyed Europe’s and Japan’s industrial capacity, the U.S. was the unquestioned power on the planet, with massive economic might, a military that had taken up permanent residence in dozens of countries, and a growing stock of nuclear weapons. Two years later the Soviets would detonate their first nuclear bomb, shaking the American edifice to its foundation. Meanwhile, all around the world, the seeds of change were taking root. Below is a look at the world as it was in 1947.
Firemen try to extinguish a blaze in Ballantyne’s Department Store in Christchurch, New Zealand.
American singer Lena Horne performs in Paris.
The hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, and the aftermath of the execution of Hisakazu Tanaka, who was the Japanese governor of occupied Hong Kong during World War II.
Sunbathers enjoy Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, and a military procession rumbles along Rua Catumbi.
Assorted Brooklyn Dodgers and manager Leo Durocher (shirtless in the foreground) relax at Havana, Cuba’s Estadio La Tropical, where they were holding spring training that year. Second photo, Cuban players for the Habana Leones celebrate the first home run hit at Havana’s newly built Estadio Latinoamericano.
Thousands of Muslims kneel toward Mecca during prayer time in Karachi, Pakistan.
A snarl of traffic near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The city hall of Cape Town, South Africa is lit up to celebrate the visit of the British Royal Family. Second photo, during the same South African trip, the royals are welcomed to Grahamstown.
A wrecked fighter plane rusts in front of Berlin’s burned and abandoned parliament building, the Reichstag. Second photo, a shot of ruins in Berlin’s Tiergarten quarter, near Rousseau Island.
A crowd in Tel Aviv celebrates a United Nations vote in favor of partitioning Palestine.
Men and bulls run through the streets of Pamplona, Spain during the yearly Festival of San Fermin.
Fog rolls across the Embarcadero in San Francisco; a worker descends from a tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Detectives study the body of a woman found murdered in Long Beach, California. Two P-51 Mustang fighters fly above Los Angeles.
Danish women from Snoghøj Gymnastics School practice in Odense.
Tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo demonstrate against the United Nations vote in favor of partitioning Palestine.
A beauty queen draped with a sash that reads “Modern 1947” is lifted high above the boardwalk in Coney Island, New York.
A woman in Barbados holds atop her head a basket filled with fibers meant for burning as fuel.
Mahatma Gandhi, his bald head barely visible at upper center, arrives through a large crowd for a prayer meeting on the Calcutta Maidan, India.
Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson is hounded for autographs in the dugout during a Brooklyn Dodgers game.