Rita Hayworthová was worth the wait.
This Czech poster for the film noir classic Gilda isn't substantially different from the U.S. promo, but the Czech text makes it worth a share. Rita Hayworthová? Love it. “V titulní roli americkeho dramatu”? That's easy to figure out—“In the title role of the American drama.” The online translator agreed. There's no Czech release date for this, but we can make a guess. It was released in early 1946, played at the Cannes Film Festival in September of that year, and began to reach secondary European markets in early 1947. So it probably reached then-Czechoslovakia in mid-1947. But whenever it showed up, Hayworthová made it a mandatory night at the movies.
Pack light and leave your inhibitions behind.
This poster was made in Liege, Belgium for the romantic drama Extase, starring Austro-Hungarian beauty Hedy Lamarr. Based on a novel by the Vienna born author and actor Robert Horký, the film opened in Belgium today in 1933, after having premiered in then-Czechoslovakia as Ekstase in January of that year. It isn't a pulp style film, but it's significant, which is why we had a look. It's about a young upper class woman in an unfulfilling marriage who solves that problem by acquiring a sidepiece in the form of a worker played by Aribert Mog. This results in some steamy moments and—some viewers say—the first orgasm ever depicted onscreen. “Some viewers” are right. There's no doubt. In the midst of a nocturnal tryst Mog's head and torso slide off-frame, as Lamarr breathes more and more heavily before finally grimacing in lovely fashion and snapping her string of pearls.
Yeah, this is hot stuff for 1933. And we thought everyone was having a great depression. Shows what we know. If the title Extase doesn't tell you what's going on, consider the fact that Hedy's character is named Eva, and Mog's is named Adam. It's that kind of movie. In a way, an orgasm was inevitable. Lamarr also captures moviegoers' attention with a nude swim and sprint through the fields that occurs about twenty-eight minutes in. Why's she running around starkers? Her mare Loni decides to get herself some equine action and abandons Hedy—taking her clothes along for the ride. Always make sure to tie your mount to something, especially when it's horny. Lamarr really is naked in the scene, too, which few modern performers would do in this age of new puritanism. It's thanks to this run through the wild that she meets Mog, the eventual master of her clitoris, if not her heart.
Extase isn't a silent film, but it's close. There's a lot of orchestral music and only a dozen or so sections of dialogue. Even so, it's very watchable. The visuals tend to be laden with meaning in films such as these, but some scenes require no interpretation at all, like the bit where a couple of horses mate (not Loni and her love, sadly). They don't show it of course, but the crash zoom of a mare's backside from the point-of-view of the stud horse gets the idea across with remarkable subtlety—not. It was hilarious, actually. But hey—even horses feel extase, because it's just a natural thing, see. On its own merits we'd call Extase more of a curio than a cinematic triumph, but it certainly achieves what it sets out to do, and that's success of a form, even if it would be forgotten without the orgasm. But that's often true, isn't it?
Loni! Come back, you stupid horse! That jumpsuit doesn't even fit you! Why hello, lovely naked creature. You rude beast! Try taking a picture. It'll last longer. Already done. With my mind. Deposited you right in the spank bank. Bank— What? Spank what? Oh, never mind. Give me my clothes. Objectify me, will you? Two can play that game. Duh... nice package! Duh... I'm an idiot! Thanks. And you're not an idiot—many women agree with you about my package. No, I'm objectifying you, like you did to me. Like a sex object. I understand. That's cool. I love sex. No, I mean I'm debasing you via the reduction of any unique and admirable qualities you might have down to the purely phy— Oh, forget it! You're too dumb to understand. Oh... oh... oh! It's true he lacks... formal education... But he sure knows how... to make a girl... SNAP HER PEARLS! *sigh*
Don't worry. Lava's slow. I'm fast. I'll undress, we'll screw, then we'll run for our lives.
When we lived in Central America there were three volcanoes that loomed over our town. One's slope commenced just a few miles away and its peak dominated the sky to the south, but that one was extinct. The other two were not. One was dormant, but the other was active and smoked nonstop, with the prevailing wind carrying the ash away from town. This mountain occasionally shot out fountains of lava hundreds of feet high, which is a sight that will make you realize how insignificant you are the same way seeing a tornado or massive wave will. These mountains stood sentinel over many of our adventures, and were even involved in a few, including the time we visited a village on the extinct volcano and a mob of about thirty people beat a suspected thief to death.
Another time the top of that volcano started glowing red one night when we were hanging out at one of the local bars. We stood in the street with our drinks watching this spectacle, and pretty soon we could see flames around the mountain's peak. We thought we were seriously screwed. It was always understood that if that dead volcano ever came back to life there was nothing to do but kiss your ass goodbye. We decided to redouble our drinking. It turned out the flames were caused by a forest fire way up by the rim, but we gotta tell you, in those moments when we thought we might be toast, we got very efficiently hammered. It's a great memory, standing in that cobbled colonial lane, guzzling booze and waiting for the mountain to blow us all to hell.
Needless to say, for that reason the cover of 1952's The Angry Mountain by Hammond Innes sold us. The art is by Mitchell Hooks and it's close to his best work, we think. We didn't need to know anything about the book. We just wanted to see how the author used a volcano—specifically Vesuvius—in his tale, since they're a subject personal to us. The cover scene does occur in the narrative, though the couple involved aren't actually trying to have sex. Innes describes this lava lit encounter well. In fact we'd say it's described beyond the ability of even an artist as good as Hooks to capture, but that doesn't mean the book is top notch. Innes simply manages to make the most of his central gimmick.
The narrative deals with a man named Farrell who was tortured during World War II, losing his leg to a fascist doctor who amputated without anesthesia. A handful of years later Farrell is in Europe again, getting around on a prosthetic leg, when a series of events leads to him believing the doctor who tortured him is alive and living under a false identity. In trying to unravel this mystery he travels from Czechoslovakia, to Milan, to Naples, and finally to a villa at the foot of Vesuvius, along the way being pursued but having no idea why. He soon comes to understand that he's thought to be hiding or carrying something. But what? Why? And where? Where could he be carrying something valuable without his knowledge? Well, there's that hollow leg of his he let get out of his sight one night when he got blackout drunk...
That was a spoiler but since you probably don't have a volcano fetish you aren't going to seek out this novel, right? The main flaw with The Angry Mountain is that, ironically, there's not much heat. Farrell is an alcoholic and has PTSD, so he's not an easy protagonist to get behind. And his confusion about what's happening gives the first-person narrative the feel of going around in circles much of the time. And because this is a 1950s thriller, there's the mandatory love interest—or actually two—and that feels unrealistic when you're talking about a one-legged boozehound who has nightmares, cold sweats, and general stability problems. So the book, while evocative, is only partly successful. But those volcano scenes. We sure loved those.
Gestapo goes to extraordinary lengths to cancel a Czech.
This striking poster for Hangmen Also Die might make you think you're dealing with a death row film noir, but it's actually a war drama about the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. When a Czech assassin played by Brian Donlevy shoots the country's cruel German administrator Reinhard Heydrich and escapes into Prague's urban maze, the Nazis start executing people to force the population to turn over the shooter. As people die Donlevy struggles over whether to turn himself in. This was made in 1943 and qualifies as war propaganda, complete with flourishes such as discordant brass when Hitler's portrait appears onscreen, and a cheeseball closing song with a chorus of, “No surrender!” And to just bang the war drum even more, the movie premiered in, of all places, Prague, Oklahoma today in 1943, and the showing featured hanged effigies of Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini, while regional politicians made a point of attending. That must have been some night.
But while Hangmen Also Die may qualify as propaganda, it certainly isn't untrue in any major sense. The film's two architects, German director Fritz Lang and German writer Bertolt Brecht, both left their homeland to avoid the Nazis, and we can only imagine that their personal experiences made this project deeply important to them. But even people working from personal experience need help, and they get a major boost from co-star Walter Brennan. You'll sometimes read about him being a great character actor and this movie proves it. Watch him in this, then as the drunkard Eddie in To Have and Have Not, and you'll find him physically unrecognizable. Only his distinctive voice identifies him as the same person. Meanwhile it's Donlevy who's asked to personify the classic moral dilemma of sacrifice for the greater good, and he's mostly successful at portraying it as a heavy burden. While we wouldn't call Hangmen Also Die a great movie, there's no doubt it occupies its niche comfortably.
Cocktails, comedy, and crime make a mix that'll go right to your head.
Above, a fantastic Czech poster for the 1934 romantic comedy-murder mystery The Thin Man, which there was titled Detektiv Nick v New Yorku. This is a photo-illustration, rather than the paintings we love, but it's still, in our book, as good as promo art gets. As far as the film goes, like Casablanca or Chinatown, there's no way to overrate it. Some of the humor is so modern that you'll have trouble believing it was made almost a century ago and wasn't cribbed from an episode of Friends or Seinfeld. Just goes to show that in the infinity of time we don't change as quickly as we think.
We adore the boozing party animals at the center of this tour de force—Nick and Nora Charles, played by William Powell and Myrna Loy—whose drunken interactions could easily be the inspiration for Jim and Jules of the hilarious television show Brockmire. Credit the director, actors, editors, and everyone else for this masterpiece, but give the biggest nod to Dashiell Hammett, who wrote the excellent source novel. There's no release date for Detektiv Nick v New Yorku in Czechoslovakia, but figure spring or early summer of 1935.
The future's so bleak he has to wear shades.
Above, a poster for the game changing science fiction adventure The Terminator painted for the Czech (then Czechoslovakian) market by Milan Pecak. The fading effect at the bottom of the art is the way Pecak painted it, rather than the result of a bad scan or photo. This movie may look a bit clunky to modern viewers, but so will Avengers: Infinity War in twenty years. Along with stunners like Alien, Blade Runner, and others, The Terminator changed the idea of what cinematic science fiction could be. It premiered in the U.S. in 1984 and eventually arrived in Czechoslovakia as Terminátor today in 1990.
If she tries to pressure you into getting a haircut there's an ulterior motive.
In 1933 Austro-Hungarian born actress Hedy Lamarr, née Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler starred in the Czech-Austrian silent film Ecstase, aka Ecstasy, a landmark production notable for its nude scenes. Lamarr was unhappy with the result, but it made her enormously famous and helped pave her way to Hollywood, where she made numerous films, including the cheesy but highly enjoyable swords and sandals epic Samson & Delilah, from which the above image comes. In the Biblical legend, Delilah cuts off Samson's magic hair to weaken him. In real life Lamarr weakened plenty of male fans and didn't have to do anything but appear on a movie screen. This photo shows her circa 1949.
He'll learn any tune you want him to.
The above poster, with its sinister art, was made for the Japanese run of a 1970 French movie titled L'aveu, aka The Confession. It was directed by Costa-Gavras, who often delves into political themes, and here Yves Montand stars as a Czech communist party official named Anton who is one day followed, arrested without warrant, and thrown in jail without charge or access to legal counsel. He thinks it's a mistake but soon realizes party officials suspect him of treason and plan to extract a confession through whatever means are required. He's subjected to isolation, sleep deprivation, and rough treatment, all presented here unequivocally as torture. And indeed when the movie was made there was no doubt what it was. But these days, in the U.S., tens of millions of people and many government officials say it isn't torture—or worse, say it is torture and should be used more. For that reason the film, in the fullness of time, now offers a double lesson—its intended one about a Soviet empire that collapsed, and an unintended one about an American empire making the same mistakes. In L'aveu the state tries to forcibly program Anton; in the U.S. millions have been programmed to accept torture simply because the state has told them to. For us, it was all pretty hard to watch, but it's a damned good movie. It premiered in Japan today in 1971.
Facts, speculation, and dubious assumptions.
This Inside Story from November 1963 features cover star Christine Keeler and the people in her life, while the left of the page has insets with Mamie Van Doren and Anthony Quinn. We’ve covered Keeler. Hers was one of the most flogged scandals of the 1960s, and Inside Story editors are well aware of that, which is why they claim to have new information. But it’s nothing new—just rehash on Keeler, a background on Czech call girl Maria Stella Novotny, who was well known by this time as one of Keeler’s colleagues, and standard red scare stuff about motel rooms set up with microphones and two-way mirrors. We will get back to Novotny, however—her tale offers some interesting twists and turns.
Inside Story shares stories about Mamie Van Doren, Jackie Gleason, Peter O’Toole, Ava Gardner and a nervous tailor who measured her for a suit, and how perfume makes men go wild. Editors also decry the injustice of a Harlem restaurant refusing to serve a white woman—this, mind you, during an era when literally hundreds of thousands of U.S. enclaves, from restaurants to schools to country clubs to sectors of the military, were whites-only. False equivalence, thy name is Inside Story. But interestingly, a subsequent piece about the world’s sexiest nightclubs tells readers chic Harlem bars are frequented by white Hollywood stars. And so it goes…
Even if it was only half true, it was still 100% shocking.
This National Enquirer published today in 1967 features cover star Hedy Lemarr promoting her 1967 autobiography Ecstasy and Me: My Life As a Woman. The title is taken from the 1933 Czech film Ekstase, in which she appeared nude, shocking audiences of the time. Enquirer describes her book as shocking, as well, and indeed there are some surprising revelations. An example: while still living in her native Austria, she ran away from her husband and hid in an empty room in a brothel. A man came into the room and she had sex with him rather than let her husband find her. Lamarr claims to have had hundreds of lovers, male and female, and depicts herself variously as both a nymphomaniac and a kleptomaniac. But all of this comes with a caveat—her ghostwriter, the notorious Leo Guild, wrote various celeb biographies that played fast and loose with the truth. That said, even Guild was not imaginative enough to have fabricated everything in Ecstasy and Me.
As a side note, we should mention that Lamarr, along with George Anthiel, invented and patented an advanced frequency switching system that they envisioned for usage guiding torpedoes (the constant switching of frequencies would make them difficult to jam, thus more likely to reach their targets). Now, if you read other websites, most of them praise Lamarr as a military genius, and it’s true she had a highly developed technical mind, but the system she helped pioneer actually grew out of an idea to remotely control player pianos. In fact, the guidance system used eighty-eight frequencies, which is of course the number of keys on a standard piano. We think knowing that she applied a musical idea to military usage gives a somewhat fuller appreciation of how ingenious she actually was, rather than just picturing her as some kind of Oppenheimer type.
Ingenious or not, the U.S. Navy declined to purchase Lamarr and Anthiel’s system, but the moment the patent expired two decades later the military was all over it. We can’t discern with our limited resources whether this sudden decision to use the technology was coincidental or not, but certainly the result was that Lamarr got screwed out of probably millions of dollars. Or perhaps even more, when you consider that her and Anthiel’s frequency switching is closely related to that used today for global positioning systems and Bluetooth. Since Lamarr claimed in her book to have blown through more than thirty million dollars in her life, the fun and creative ways she might have spent a massive military windfall makes the mind boggle. We’ll get back to Hedy Lamarr a bit later, because she certainly deserves a more detailed treatment.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1966—LSD Declared Illegal in U.S.
LSD, which was originally synthesized by a Swiss doctor and was later secretly used by the CIA on military personnel, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and members of the general public in a project code named MKULTRA, is designated a controlled substance in the United States.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
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