Humphrey is pitch perfect as always but it's Edward who makes this movie sing.
Above, one of many promo posters for the classic drama Key Largo. This movie, as you doubtless know, is great. It hinges on Edward G. Robinson's bravura performance as a washed up gangster trying to make a comeback, but he gets ample onscreen help from co-stars Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Gomez, Claire Trevor, Dan Seymour, and others. And John Huston in the director's chair is no slouch bringing the foreground drama and hurricane background to life. Key Largo is often called a film noir. Is it though? Hmm... Bogart certainly fits the bill in terms of characterization, but since the movie lacks most other noir elements we're inclined to call it a straight crime drama. But that's just our opinion. It was first seen by the public at a Hollywood preview in mid-July 1948, and went into full national release today.
Deliveries go in the rear. And get your mind out of the gutter.
American actress Jean Parker, who enjoyed a long film career that ran from 1932 to 1965 and comprised more than seventy screen appearances, watches over some crates in this promo photo made for the 1954 crime drama Black Tuesday, in which she co-starred with Edward G. Robinson. Must be something very valuable in those boxes for her to be armed and ready to ventilate somebody. Is toilet paper still the valuable currency of the moment? It's never been scarce where we live but we heard people in other places were ready to kill for it a few weeks ago. We'd prefer if the cargo here were good booze, possibly Bulleit bourbon. Well, let's flip them upside down and...
Aha. So, they're items made in occupied Japan. We embarked upon the digital superhighway, conjured up several synopses for Black Tuesday, and using search-find on keyword “Japan,” so we wouldn't spoil the plot by actually reading any details, got no hits. Probably the crates are just props that had been sitting around RKO-Pathé Studios, where the movie was shot. But we can't be sure. It's just these sorts of small mysteries that influence our movie queue. We'll screen this and report back.
Bogart finds himself stuck on Key Largo when hurricane Edward blows into town.
Above is a West German poster for Hafen des Lasters, which translates as “port of vice,” but is better known as Key Largo. We love this piece of art. It's imitative of earlier posters, particularly a Belgian promo from 1949. But that one is by Wik. This one is signed by a different artist, but illegibly, so we can't tell you who painted it. We'll work on that. We've uploaded the signature in case you have an idea what this scrawl says. This is simply a great film, a crime drama set in a hurricane. Many books using the same idea were written later, such as Theodore Pratt's Tropical Disturbance and Russell Trainer's No Way Back. Whether they were inspired by Key Largo or earlier works like W. Somerset Maugham's Rain we can't say, but any writer will tell you never let a good gimmick go to waste. In any case, Key Largo premiered in the U.S. in 1948 and reached West Germany today in 1950.
The more it comes into focus the clearer the danger is.
Above, a beautiful promo by Roger Rojac for La femme au portrait, known in English as The Woman in the Window. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1944, but didn't reach France until 1947. We talked about this one a long while ago—Edward G. Robinson is bored with his life, but gets more than he bargained for when he helps a damsel in distress. Solid film noir, disliked by many for its ending, but with a French poster disliked by none.
You ever feel like you're going to lose no matter what?
This awesome cover art is by Tommy Shoemaker, a new talent to us, but not to more experienced paperback illustration aficionados, and his work fronts William Irish's The Night Has 1000 Eyes. The cover alone got us into this one. It tells the story a woman who has been burdened with very dark—and very real—predictions about the future, forecasts far too specific to be lucky guesses. For example, she's told she'll meet a woman who wears a diamond watch around her knee, and it comes true when one of her friends asks to borrow a garter, then raises her skirt to show how she's dealt with her broken one by fastening her watch around her stocking. Given that these predictions are so specific, the crucial announcement that the woman's father will be killed by a lion seems utterly unavoidable, even though they live in the middle of a metropolis.
The cover may seem to remove the need to read the novel, but don't worry—it actually depicts not the climax or any point in the middle, but the first several pages, in which a beat cop comes across a woman determined to leap from a bridge. It's after he rescues her that we learn the bizarre story of why she's there. Irish, aka George Hopley, aka Cornell Woolrich, is perhaps a bit too reiterative with his prose in this one, tending to belabor his points after they've been fully made, to the extent that the novel feels a bit like it's been padded out to reach a word threshold. Minor flaw. Even if you're periodically tempted to skip some of the existentialism 101 musings, Irish/Hopley/Woolrich weaves a compelling tale here—one later made into a film noir starring Edward G. Robinson—and it's well worth the time spent.
Nice guys finish last—until they're pushed too far.
The 1945 film noir Scarlet Street is one of the bleaker offerings from a generally bleak genre. Edward G. Robinson plays an aspiring painter in a loveless marriage whose need makes him a perfect mark for a pair of hustlers, played by Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, who shake him down for money, a free apartment, and even his recognition as an artist. The main treat here is seeing tough guy Robinson play a mild-mannered everyman, the sort of terminal pushover he also portrayed to great effect in the noir The Woman in the Window. The thing is, some people can only take so much abuse.
What was it Shakespeare wrote about rough winds and May?
Above is a publicity photo of American singer/actor/comedian Sammy Davis, Jr. with his Swedish bride, actress May Britt. The shot dates from today in 1960, and as you might guess, that was a very bad time for mixed couples. Sammy had for years been making tabloid headlines for dating white women ranging from Tinseltown icon Kim Novak to Canadian singer Joan Stuart, but when he announced plans to marry Britt, a chunk of the general public lost its collective mind. He faced racist banners and chants in London, received rafts of hate mail, and was confronted in Los Angeles with the bizarre spectacle of three men marching outside the Huntington Hartford Theater in nazi regalia. Even two admirers, John and Robert Kennedy, allegedly asked Frank Sinatra to tell Davis to delay the wedding until after the 1960 presidential election.
Professionally, Britt had to choose between her career and Davis, because it was quite clear that she would never be hired in Hollywood if she married him. Some websites suggest that she lost little because she was a minor talent at best, but she had appeared in over a dozen films and had made the cover of Life magazine twice before even meeting Sammy, so her expectations of a strong run in Hollywood were in no way delusional. Obviously, she chose love over career, and wed Davis at his home in the Hollywood Hills. Some of the guests at the reception included Peter Lawford, Diana Dors, Barbara Rush, Janet Leigh, Leo Durocher, Shirley MacLaine, Milton Berle, and Edward G. Robinson, Jr. The marriage lasted eight years—not long in the real world perhaps, but an eternity by Hollywood standards.
Only the good go to sleep at night.
The French coined the term film noir, so it seems only fitting to feature a collection of French posters celebrating the genre. Above and below are fifteen examples promoting films noir from France, Britain, and the U.S., representing some of the best ever produced within the art form, as well as some less celebrated examples that we happen to love. Of those, we highly recommend seeing Le salaire de la peur, for which you see the poster above, and Ride the Pink Horse, below, which played as Et tournent les chevaux de bois in France. Just a word about those films (and feel free to skip ahead to the art, because really, who has time these days to listen to a couple of anonymous internet scribes ramble on about old movies?).
1953’s Le salaire de la peur is about a group of men stranded in an oil company town in the mountains of South America. In order to earn the wages to get out, four of them agree to drive two trucks filled with nitroglycerine over many miles of dangerous terrain. The idea is to use the chemicals to put out a raging oil well fire that is consuming company profits by the second, but of course the film is really about whether the men can even get there alive. Le salaire de la peur was critically praised when released in Europe, but in the U.S., political factions raised their ugly heads and got censors to crudely re-edit the prints so as to reduce the movie’s anti-capitalist (and by extension anti-American) subtext. The movie was later remade by Hollywood twice—once in 1958 as Hell’s Highway, and again in 1977 as Sorcerer. The original is by far the best.
1947’s Ride the Pink Horse is an obscure noir, but a quintessential one, in our opinion. If many noirs feature embittered World War II vets as their anti-heroes, Robert Montgomery’s Lucky Gagin is the bitterest of them all. He arrives in a New Mexico border town on a quest to avenge the death of a friend. The plot is thin—or perhaps stripped down would be a better description—but Montgomery’s atmospheric direction makes up for that. Like a lot of mid-century films featuring ethnic characters, the most important one is played by a white actor (Wanda Hendrix, in a coating of what looks like brown shoe polish). It's racist, for sure, but within the universe of the film Lucky Gagin sees everyone around him only as obstacles or allies—i.e., equals within his own distinct worldview. So that makes up for it. Or maybe not. In any case, we think Ride the Pink Horse is worth a look. Thirteen more posters below.
Edward G. Robinson learns to be thankful for what he’s got.
Above is a Swedish promo poster for Kvinnan i fönstret , better known as The Woman in the Window, from German expressionist master Fritz Lang. Anything from the director who gave us Metropolis is must-see, however, we have to warn you that the finale to this one may come as a let-down, or more accurately a cop-out. But don’t blame Lang—blame the censors of the day, who wouldn’t let him use the ending from the source material, J. H. Wallis’s novel Once Off Guard. If judged in the forgiving frame of mind that the ending shouldn’t be held against it, The Woman in the Window can’t be considered anything but a top-notch effort. Basically, it’s worth it just to see Edward G. Robinson in the lead as a stuffy college professor who wishes for more excitement in his life. He learns the hard lesson—thanks to femme fatale Joan Bennett—that he isn’t built for adventure. So the film is a cautionary tale. It warns middle-aged men that stable lives may be boring, but hot young women lead to directly to trouble, terror and tragedy (best case scenario: after a lot of screamingly good sex). The Woman in the Window opened in Sweden today in 1947.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1919—Volstead Act Passed
The U.S. Congress passes the Volstead Act over President Woodrow Wilson's veto, paving the way for alcohol Prohibition to begin the following January. The Act, named for Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Andrew Volstead, was supposed to create a better society but instead helped lead to the rise of violent organized crime gangs. The law wouldn't be repealed until 1933.
1922—Mussolini Comes Into Power
During the second day of the event known as the March on Rome, Fascist leader Benito Mussolini officially takes control of the Italian government when King Victor Emmanuel III cedes power. Supported by a coalition of military, business, and right-wing leaders, Mussolini remains in power until 1943, when defeat in World War II begins to look inevitable.
1994—U.S. Prison Population Reaches Milestone
The U.S. prison population tops 1 million for the first time in American history. By 2008 the U.S. Justice Department pegs the number of imprisoned at 2.3 million, and the overall U.S. correctional population, i.e. those in jail, prison, on probation or on parole, at 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 adults.
1951—Churchill Becomes Prime Minster Again
The Conservative Party wins the British general election, making Winston Churchill prime minister for the second time. Churchill is nearly 76 at the time, making him the second oldest prime minister in history after William Gladstone. Churchill remains PM until 1955, when he steps down at 81 due to ill health.
1964—The Night Caller Is Executed
In Australia, Eric Edgar Cooke, who had earned the nickname Night Caller, is hanged after being convicted of murder. He had terrorized Perth for four years, committing 22 violent crimes, eight of which resulted in deaths. He becomes the last person to be executed in Western Australia.
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