Vintage Pulp Jan 28 2022
PHANTOM OF THE OPERATION
Everyone says she isn't real but could a figment of his imagination cause this many problems?


Secretaries make a habit of saving the boss's ass. It's in the job description. In Phantom Lady, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1944, the ass saving is literal, as Ella Raines finds herself the only person who believes her employer Alan Curtis didn't kill his wife. Curtis's alibi is as weak as they come—he spent the evening with a woman he never met before, whose name he never got, who he can only describe as wearing a strange hat, and who nobody can find to confirm his story. She's the phantom lady of the title—doesn't exist, at least as far as everyone besides Curtis is concerned. So after a quick trial, off to the death house he goes, where he sinks into a state of dismal acceptance of his own oblivion. That's when Raines decides to work her secretarial krav maga and crack the case. You think shorthand is hard? Try unraveling a vast conspiracy.

Phantom Lady also stars the great Franchot Tone, Elisha Cook, Jr., and one-ethnicity-fits-all character actor Thomas Gomez. As performers, the top end of the cast ranges from good to great, but the script isn't the best clay with which to mold. There are positives, though. The direction by Robert Siodmak is interesting, the set design is eye-catching in places, particularly in Tone's wacky bachelor pad with its odd concrete bed, and there's a great bit set in a jazz cellar that plays like something out of Reefer Madness without the drugs. It'll teach you that jazz music is crazy enough to bend reality all by itself. You'll also learn that in case of murder it's good to have someone in your corner. Preferably someone with a winning smile, a nice figure, and excellent investigative skills.

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Femmes Fatales Feb 11 2021
DEATH STARE
You know what else is bad for your health? Telling me for like the 10,000th time I should quit smoking.


U.S. actress Ella Raines gives the camera a look that could flash freeze an espresso macchiato in this promo image made for her film noir Phantom Lady. She has also been known to smile, for instance here. And to make funny faces, for example here. With that kind of range you can be sure she'll be seen here again before long.

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Hollywoodland Dec 1 2019
IN OVER HER HEAD
Who says it never Raines in L.A?


You can't tell with her face all scrunched up, but the person in the above photo is actress Ella Raines, who appeared in such films as Brute Force, The Web, and Phantom Lady. Here she makes a July 1943 cameo in the pool at the Town House Hotel in Los Angeles, which was famous for its water nymphs that frolicked as guests in the hotel bar watched through plate glass. We've featured the Town House pool before, and those shots are worth a look. Just click the keywords below and scroll. 

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Hollywoodland Oct 23 2019
JAILHOUSE ROCK
Watch and marvel as I escape this cage using the incredible power of my court appointed defense attorney.


This odd photo shows Eric Pederson, whose real name was Charles E. Putnam, showing off for photographers after he had been arrested on suspicion of auto theft in Los Angeles today in 1947. He and a companion named Edward Sell were busted by cops inside a car belonging a third party, though both denied they were trying to steal it. Pederson is rock hard in this photo for a reason. He was the reigning Mr. California, a title he won at only eighteen years old. The win sent him onward to the Mr. America competition, but he was beaten for the national crown by future Superman Steve Reeves.

Pederson generated plenty of publicity off that and other bodybuilding competitions, which led to a Your Physique cover painted by none other than George Quaintance. Since Quaintance painted only about a dozen of these, this was quite an honor. From there Pederson was able to launch a long pro wrestling career, which is how he's mainly remembered today. At one time he had Hollywood aspirations, but ended up managing only one role—a bit part as a wrestler in 1951's Civilian Coast Guard, starring Brian Donlevy and Ella Raines.

We weren't able to find out how his auto theft arrest turned out, but considering his seemingly unbroken timeline from bodybuilding competitions to wrestling, it's safe to say the charges were pleaded down to a misdemeanor or dismissed altogether. Which just goes to show that even quasi celebrity is helpful in L.A. Or maybe the cops gave him a break in exchange for bodybuilding tips. In any case, Pederson retired from wrestling in 1961 and died in 1990, but the Quaintance painting guarantees he'll be remembered as long as people collect great magazine art. We have more from Quaintance here, here, and here.

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Femmes Fatales Jul 24 2018
RAINES SHINES
I always appreciate attention from a handsome lifeguard, but I think someone's drowning over there.

Above, U.S. born actress Ella Raines lounges in her bathing suit in this summery image from 1943 made in Los Angeles at the Town House Hotel. Later she'd take a dip in the pool. Raines appeared in such films as Phantom Lady, Impact, and Brute Force, before transitioning to television in the 1950s. We talked about her 1947 film noir The Web a few years ago and you can read about that here.

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Vintage Pulp May 25 2015
WEB OF DECEIT
Was it self-defense or murder? That’s always the question.

Do embezzlers even exist anymore, or is all that legal now? That’s the first question we had about The Web. The second was whether it’s believable for a lawyer to accept a gig moonlighting as a bodyguard for a wealthy and arrogant businessman. Well, maybe, if he wants mainly to get close to his new employer’s hot secretary Ella Raines. And his plan seems to be working, too, but just when things are heating up between them he has to shift into bodyguard mode and ends up killing an intruder bent on ventilating the businessman. But was the shooting legit or was it all a set-up to eliminate a rival? The lawyer starts to have suspicions when the dead man’s daughter appears and accuses him of being a hired murderer. From her perspective, what else could he appear to be? Raines, Edmond O’Brien, William Bendix, Vincent Price, John Abbott, and Maria Palmer do tolerable work here, but director Michael Gordon hits a few snags. For example, he shoots a restaurant scene between O’Brien and Bendix on two different sets and splices the halves together. Did one set burn down? Did the budget not include provisions for continuity? You can spot that gaffe at about 45:00. There are others. If you don’t mind such details there’s enjoyment to be had here, but if you like technical proficiency in your cinema, perhaps steer clear. The Web premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 02
1919—Wilson Suffers Stroke
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson suffers a massive stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed. He is confined to bed for weeks, but eventually resumes his duties, though his participation is little more than perfunctory. Wilson remains disabled throughout the remainder of his term in office, and the rest of his life.
1968—Massacre in Mexico
Ten days before the opening of the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, a peaceful student demonstration ends in the Tlatelolco Massacre. 200 to 300 students are gunned down, and to this day there is no consensus about how or why the shooting began.
October 01
1910—Los Angeles Times Bombed
A massive dynamite bomb destroys the Los Angeles Times building in downtown Los Angeles, California, killing 21 people. Police arrest James B. McNamara and his brother John J. McNamara. Though the brothers are represented by the era's most famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow, of Scopes Monkey Trial fame, they eventually plead guilty. James is convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. His brother John is convicted of a separate bombing of the Llewellyn Iron Works and also sent to prison.
1975—Ali Defeats Frazier in Manila
In the Philippines, an epic heavyweight boxing match known as the Thrilla in Manila takes place between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. It is the third, final and most brutal match between the two, and Ali wins by TKO in the fourteenth round.
September 30
1955—James Dean Dies in Auto Accident
American actor James Dean, who appeared in the films Giant, East of Eden, and the iconic Rebel without a Cause, dies in an auto accident at age 24 when his Porsche 550 Spyder is hit head-on by a larger Ford coupe. The driver of the Ford had been trying to make a left turn across the rural highway U.S. Route 466 and never saw Dean's small sports car approaching.
1962—Chavez Founds UFW
Mexican-American farm worker César Chávez founds the United Farm Workers in California. His strikes, marches and boycotts eventually result in improved working conditions for manual farm laborers and today his birthday is celebrated as a holiday in eight U.S. states.
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