Social critique lurks in the dark corners of Evelyn Keyes film noir.
This unusual poster was made for the film noir The Prowler, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1951 starring Evelyn Keyes and cinephile fave Van Heflin. When a woman reports a prowler one of the cops that responds to the call becomes infatuated with her and decides to make her his own, despite the fact that she's married. The process of claiming her involves him forcing himself upon her, but this being a mid-century drama, after the fade to black we fast forward a few weeks and the two are now having an affair.
This is the set-up of the film, not its story arc, so we haven't given anything anyway in terms of major plot points, however we wanted to mention the preamble because it's uncomfortable viewing—though we should note that the film doesn't present this behavior as normal. It also seems clear that Heflin is able to pull this off specifically because a fizzled Hollywood career has made Keyes' character vulnerable, and she's unhappy in a marriage that she agreed to for reasons of security. So if you watch the film don't get your hackles up. In order to condemn behavior it's useful to show it, and that's what Heflin's manipulations are all about.
But there's more going on here than just a noir drama about a bad man and a targeted woman. The movie was written largely, if not wholly, by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, and he always has a deeper message. Here's a notable line of dialogue concerning bad police officers: “It depends on what you think a cop's job really is. I figure that the job of a cop is to protect lives. Now some of these trigger happy guys, they think they have to protect things.”
Hmm. Relevant to today? Quite possibly.
Often you can identify a film noir by the simple fact that the lead male is screwed, and gets progressively more screwed as the movie unfolds. The Prowler reverses the formula and places Keyes in the screwed role and makes Heflin a sort of homme fatale, a sociopathic manipulator determined to get what he wants no matter the cost. What he wants is Keyes, and he'll destroy her marriage, her self respect, her mental stability, and any other pillar of her existence to have her. And of course, in so doing, he'll risk losing what humanity he has and descending into soulless desolation.
Evelyn Keyes was a talented performer. We've seen her several times now and she always kills it. Thanks to her and others The Prowler is a well acted movie. It's also beautifully shot. It was directed by Joseph Losey—soon to be blacklisted along with Trumbo, so presumably they were on the same page concerning social critique as cinematic subtext. Millions of average Joes made the same gripes as Trumbo and Losey, and millions of average Joes still do today. But when filmmakers weave a narrative tapestry that calls America broadly corrupt, trouble with the empty suits in Washington D.C. always looms.
Here's a parting shot from Trumbo: “So I'm no good. But I'm no worse than anyone else. You work in a store you knock down on the cash register. The big boss, [he cheats on] the income tax. [Politician] sells votes. The lawyer takes bribes. I was a cop. I used a gun.”
Don't criticize America like that! People will think you're a communist.
I have been re-educated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. I am happy. America is perfect.
She's at the top of the scale.
We're big fans of return engagements, especially when they look like this. So here's Evelyn Keyes reprising her first femme fatale appearance, which was back in January of 2013. Keyes was a versatile actress, playing a mocking wife in The Seven Year Itch, an ambitious city girl in 99 River Street, and a quirky genie in A Thousand and One Nights, among many other roles. She's been great in everything we've seen so far, and has become one of our favorites. This excellent promo photo dates from around 1950.
A thousand and one nights with Evelyn Keyes is not nearly enough.
Above, the U.S. poster for A Thousand and One Nights, which we talked about in detail last year. The movie starred Evelyn Keyes as a wish-granting but mischievous genie, and Cornel Wilde as the lucky owner of her lamp and undeserving object of her affection. Terminally cute, this one, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1945. As a bonus, there's the magical Keyes below making herself disappear (behind a hat).
Is there anything worse than an itch you can’t scratch?
The Seven Year Itch is one of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic roles. She’s great in it, but the movie is stagey and clunky and some of its humorous elements haven’t aged well. But Monroe successfully personifies temptation as the upstairs neighbor of married schlub Tom Ewell, and her sexy-but-virginal interplay with him demonstrates once again that she was a uniquely talented comic actress. There’s also really no way to overstate her beauty, nor the ease with which she inhabited these sorts of oops-I-made-you-love-me roles. Simply put, she made everything better, and did it with skill and something more—pure magic. The promo shots below show her famed upskirt scene, which, by the way, never occurs in quite this form in the film. Onscreen we only see her legs twice and two reaction shots. Not sure why director Billy Wilder made that decision—the whole of Monroe is surely better than just a part, no? The German title of the movie was Das verflixte 7. Jahr, which means “the cursed seventh year,” and the poster you see above is from the West German re-release of the film in 1966. The Seven Year Itch, with Monroe, Ewell, and Evelyn Keyes, originally premiered in West Germany today in 1955.
Rock bottom is always a lot closer than you think.
This excellent promo poster is for a down and dirty little film noir called 99 River Street, the story of a boxer who was almost champion, but instead was knocked out at the moment of his seeming triumph. Now he’s a cab driver with big dreams but a wife that hates him for his low station in life and undermines him at every turn. She’s having an affair with a well-heeled criminal, and this situation leads to murder, which of course brings the cops knocking on our hero’s door. John Payne does an excellent job as a boxer with a bad eye and worse instincts, Peggie Castle is his two-timing conniver of a wife, and Evelyn Keyes is his bright-eyed and ambitious female friend—and probably his only hope for redemption. The plot takes a few twists and turns before speeding toward a nighttime dockside climax. Highly recommended. 99 River Street premiered in the U.S. today in 1953.
When Evelyn Keyes comes out of a lamp, is there really any need to wish for more?
The unusually beautiful French language poster above was made for the Belgian run of Aladin et la lampe merveilleuse, which was originally produced in the U.S. as A Thousand and One Nights. Some of the other posters for this set-in-Baghdad musical adventure are excellent too, such as the one you see at right (presumably made for the French run), but the version at top is the best—and rarest.
The art also manages to convey the mood of the movie quite accurately—it’s ninety minutes of cheeseball musical numbers, Vaudevillian slapstick, and Cornel Wilde caught in the world’s silliest love triangle. All of this is slightly marred by the unfortunate sight of white actors hamming it up with brown shoe polish on their faces, but that's to be expected in a Middle-Eastern themed movie made during an era when actors of color were more-or-less barred from cinematic roles.
On balance, the movie is a real mood lifter, but the whole effort is just a little too stupidly sweet for us to truly call good, with a bit too much syrupy baritone crooning from Cornel Wilde (or more likely his voice double), and too much of the various love interests making cow-eyes at each other. But Evelyn Keyes as the troublemaking genie is a fun touch. She makes the movie worth it. Aladin et la lampe merveilleuse premiered in the U.S. in 1945, and played for the first time in France/Belgium today in 1949.
Evelyn Keyes puts the common handkerchief to uncommon usage.
American actress Evelyn Keyes started in film in 1938 and came to wide attention in 1939’s Gone with the Wind. Later she appeared in movies such as Johnny O’Clock, 99 River Street, and The Seven Year Itch. This great shot pairing her with a haystack and wearing a swimsuit put together from handkerchiefs was probably made around 1950.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1978—Son of Sam Goes to Prison
David Berkowitz, the New York City serial killer known as Son of Sam, is sentenced to 365 years in prison for six killings. Berkowitz had acquired his nickname from letters addressed to the NYPD and columnist Jimmy Breslin. He is eventually caught when a chain of events beginning with a parking ticket leads to his car being searched and police discovering ammunition and maps of crime scenes.
1963—Buddhist Monk Immolates Himself
In South Vietnam, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death by dousing himself with gasoline and lighting a match. He does it to protest the persecution of Buddhists by Ngô Đình Diệm administration, choosing a busy Saigon intersection for his protest. An image of the monk being consumed by flames as he sits crosslegged on the pavement, shot by Malcolm Browne, wins a Pulitzer Prize and becomes one of the most shocking and recognizable photos ever published.
In New York City, Dr. Robert Smith and William Griffith Wilson, who were both recovering alcoholics, establish the organization Alcoholics Anonymous, which pioneers a 12-step rehabilitation program that is so helpful and popular it eventually spreads to every corner of the globe.
1973—John Paul Getty III Is Kidnapped
John Paul Getty III, grandson of billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, is kidnapped in Rome, Italy. The elder Getty ignores a ransom demand for $17 million, thinking it is a joke. When John Paul's ear later arrives in the mail along with a note promising further mutilation, he negotiates the ransom down to $2.9 million, which he pays only on the condition that John Paul repay him at four percent interest. Getty's kidnappers are never caught.
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