To be a sidewalk pancake or not to be a sidewalk pancake. That is the question.
We have a friend who once said that everyone's problems can be boiled down to, “Mommy and daddy didn't love me enough.” We don't agree, but 14 Hours, aka Fourteen Hours, takes that idea and runs with it as far and fast as it can, as Richard Basehart climbs onto a New York City hotel ledge and engages in the eternal existential wrestling match: To be or not to be? Most of the movie takes place on that ledge, as a beat cop played by Paul Douglas tries to talk Basehart out of splattering himself all over 55th Street.
The performances in this film were acclaimed at the time, and it also has an interesting collection of young, soon-to-be stars, including Debra Paget, pretty boy Jeffery Hunter, Barbara Bel Geddes, and the legendary Grace Kelly, who's twenty-two yet plays a mother of two about to be divorced. Yes, there are twenty-two-year-old mothers of two facing divorce, but it feels like a case of shoehorning her into the movie when her role was clearly written for an older actress. But hey, shoehorn away—she's Grace Kelly. She can play King Kong as far as we're concerned.
14 Hours is, on the whole, an involving and speedy flick. It is not a film noir, and we wish IMDB and Wikipedia didn't let their users label every vintage black and white drama a noir. This one is not even close to noir. It has almost none of that genre's standard iconography, and also lacks its required thematic underpinning. The American Film Institute officially calls it a suspense drama. Whatever its category, 14 Hours' ninety-two minutes are entertaining and technically proficient. To watch or not to watch? We say yes. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1951.
If you'd had sex with me I wouldn't be out here with the pigeons right now. Headquarters? Do not—I repeat do not—eat all the donuts. We'll get this nutjob off the ledge and be back there as quick as we can. I certainly don't want you to get desperate enough to climb onto a ledge. Let's go to your place and I'll show you what life is all about. Don't jump, son! Without you there'll be nobody around to listen to me complain about what a loser your father is! Hello, headquarters? Status check on those donuts. Just cooperate, mister! There are a lot of hungry cops up here!
They say even bad publicity is good publicity.
In this March 1957 issue of the tabloid Behind the Scene editors take swipes at assorted Hollywood icons, among them Yul Brenner, John Wayne, and others. Highlights include the allegation that Elvis Presley's career is mob controlled, that camera clubs are just fronts for porn peddlers, that Hedy Lamarr used Linda Lombard as a body double for Samson & Delilah, and that Lucrezia Borgia is the sexiest movie ever made. Also Mamie Van Doren's “secret weapon” is that anywhere she goes she always wears the least clothing of any woman present.
The shocking tales about Brynner have mainly to do with his claims of being a real life man of action, born on the Russian island of Sakhalin to Mongol ancestors. The truth was more mundane, but the lies helped Brynner establish himself as a star. As far as Elvis goes, he was dogged by rumors of Mafia ties later in his career, but this mention of a connection as far back as 1957 was a surprise to us. As always, people on both sides of the issue are willing to shout their version of the facts to the mountaintops, but nobody really knows who’s telling the truth. We’ll check with Elvis himself on this, since he lives just over in the next town since faking his death in 1977.
The interesting story here is the one about Gail Russell and John Wayne. Their acquaintanceship began when they starred in Angel and the Badman together in 1947, and continued when they reunited for Wake of the Red Witch in 1949. Whether they were more than just friends, nobody really knows. At the time Wayne was married to Esperanza Baur Díaz, and the relationship was marred by drinking and fighting, including one incident when Baur shot at Wayne. When the divorce inevitably came, it turned into one of the nastiest splits in years, with Baur accusing Wayne of being a violent drunk who beat her and fucked around with various women, including Russell, and Wayne accusing Baur of hanging around sleazy dive bars in Mexico, hooking up with strange men, and spending his money to entertain them.
The divorce was in 1953, but Behind the Scene, with this cover, is offering its readership dirt from an event that was still fresh in the public’s minds because it had been such a knock-down-drag-out spectacle. Russell had never weathered the limelight well, and she used booze to cope. Her long term drinking problem was exacerbated by the turbulence surrounding the Wayne-Baur split. Two weeks after the divorce she was arrested for drunk driving. It caused Paramount to decline renewing her contract, and she kind of floated around for a few years, trying to hook on with a new studio but drinking steadily all the while. In 1955 she crashed her car and fled the scene, and in early 1957 she drove though the plate glass windows of Jan’s Restaurant in Hollywood.
With hindsight, it’s clear Russell was in a death spiral, but in the Tinseltown of that day the situation was perhaps not so obvious. In August 1957, Russell was found unconscious in her home, passed out after a drinking binge. Even in Hollywood, she had now crossed the line from being merely a party girl to having a problem. She was persuaded to join AA, but couldn't stop drinking, and in August 1961 was found in her L.A. apartment, having died from liver damage, aged 36, another beautiful star that flamed out. All that and more, in thirty-plus scans below.
Horwitz uses its best known cover star to date.
American actress and dancer Debra Paget appears, quite strikingly, on the front of Carter Brown's Stripper You've Sinned, which was published in 1956. We've been speculating for a while whether Horwitz, headquartered 7,500 miles away from Hollywood in Sydney, Australia, licensed its celebrity covers. Our assumption has always been no. The idea of celebrity covers would be, ostensibly, to generate extra interest in the book. But if that's the case, why such obscure stars? There's really no extra publicity to gain, and a licensing fee to lose. So we've always suspected the celebs were chosen merely because they were beautiful and the shots were available as handout photos.
But now we aren't sure about that, because Paget breaks the pattern—she was pretty well known in 1956, having appeared in more than a dozen films, and in highly billed roles in a few of those productions. So now we're thinking Horwitz actually did license these images. The fees must have been tiny, though, otherwise it wouldn't make any sense fiscally. Horwitz could have put an equally beautiful Aussie model on the book covers and gotten the same result with less hassle. In any case, this is great imagery. If you want to know what the book is actually about, check the review here. And if you click the keywords “Horwitz Publications” below you'll see all our previous posts on this matter.
Just point me to the palest of your women. She's the one I want.
This Dutch poster promotes De indische graftempel, which was originally a West German production called De indische grabmal, and later given the English titles The Indian Tomb and The Tomb of Love. Made by Fritz Lang, this was the fourth pass at a 1918 novel by Thea von Harbou, but this version strays far from the source material. The book is about an architect commissioned by a Maharaja to build a fantastic tomb, but who later discovers it's for the Maharaja's wife, who will be killed for being a generally unfit spouse and placed in the structure as soon as it's completed. This must have made for some fun jokes between Lang and von Harbou, since they had been married for a time but were divorced when they worked together here. The adaptation they came up with relegates the architect to secondary status, and instead focuses on the wife Seetha, played by Debra Paget, who is having an affair with a Western lover named Harald, played by Paul Hubschmid.
Just to get right to the heart of it, this isn't one of Lang's best efforts. Despite good location work and excellent sets, the romance is silly, the adventure elements are uninspiring, and there's no emotional realism at all. But the movie is instructive in one area—it could be a case study for this year's Academy Awards race controversy. Every Indian role of consequence is played by a white person in shoe polish. This was the norm back then and it happened in hundreds if not thousands of films. Now, after nearly a century of such silliness, some people are actually offended at demands that ethnic roles be played by ethnic actors, and lead roles be diversified. Those demands are beyond fair. For decades nobody made even a peep about white actors in brown makeup, let alone the industrywide denial of good roles to actors of color, but as soon as someone says maybe Joseph Fiennes shouldn't play Michael Jackson in a film or Star Wars should have a black lead it's suddenly racism against whites. You almost have to laugh. What's also funny is that Paget, though she's supposed to be Indian, is without dark coloration. This is another norm for the period—amidst the brown hordes the most beautiful woman is always the palest.
All that said, watching the spectacle of literally a dozen West German actors in brown make-up is actually quite funny in today's context. But the main attraction here is Paget, whose erotic dance routine before ranks of spray-tanned slaves and beneath a looming, twenty-foot-high, giant-boobed Hindu statue is one of cinema's great sequences. We don't mean great in terms of acting or dancing or directing. It's an immortal moment the same way Alicia Vikander looking at herself in a mirror in Ex Machina is, or Sharon Stone flashing her ragamuffin in Basic Instinct. It's one ofthose instances when mainstream filmmakers push everyone's comfort envelope and remind them that sex is actually the single most important aspect of all our lives. Save for a tiny subset of us, we all exist because of it, our existence can only be assured by having more of it, and pretending it isn't on all our minds much of the time is just a silly rule imposed by the people who conceived our civilizational costume party. In the envelope-pushing respect De indische graftempel is a roaring success. Otherwise, not so much. It premiered today in 1959.
Half a century and countless social changes later only one story in Suppressed remains shocking.
This July 1955 Suppressed serves up its usual outrage, with Erroll Flynn bedding a woman half his age, Debra Paget scandalizing audiences with her dancing, and Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Paulette Goddard and others brazenly indulging in “promiscuity, free living and flagrant exhibitionism.” Which is to say, they moved on to other sexual partners without bothering to get divorced. The magazine also takes a swipe at Terry Moore, who “resorts to suggestive gowns rather than talent.” We’d love to have read what Suppressed would have printed when Moore posed nude for Playboy in 1984 at age 55, but it was long defunct by then. After bashing celebs, the editors move on to fashion, offering a primer on hepcat style, but before you rush out to buy a pair of zebra print shoes, remember that the line forms behind us. Later, the magazine offers readers a peek inside a mental asylum, and in the process shows a few hair-raising practices. Among them are violent patients being penned together like cattle, and a delirious alcoholic who is “brought back to reality by shock treatment.” We think the easiest way to shock an alcoholic back to reality is to tell him he’s out of booze, but what do we know? It’s ironic, though, that all the sexual innuendo and moral outrage mustered by Suppressed seems so misplaced now, and the one story editors probably thought of as uncontroversial—electrically shocking alcoholics—is truly frightening. How times change.
Ten ways to be adored.
Below, assorted covers of Hayat, which became one of Turkey’s most popular celebrity magazines beginning in the 1950s. From top to bottom the cover stars are Jayne Mansfield, Ursula Andress, Anita Ekberg, no idea because we can't read Turkish and her name isn't on the cover, Marilyn Monroe, Debra Paget, Ava Gardner, Natalie Wood, Ann-Margret, and Brigitte Bardot.
Caution, soft shoulder.
More Asian goodness today, with West Point magazine from Hong Kong. This issue was published in 1955 and features a slip-clad Debra Paget on the cover, along with Gina Lollobrigida, Diana Dors, and others inside.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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