Vintage Pulp Apr 19 2024
REST UNEASY
When there's a killer on the loose you'd better sleep with one eye open.


This poster for While the City Sleeps doesn't impress with masterly art the way so many vintage promos do, but its simplicity is, in an oblique sort of way, we think, meant to echo tabloid covers from the era. RKO made a special poster in collaboration with Confidential magazine, which you'll see below. The movie's plot is pure tabloid fodder. A serial killer has slain women in New York City, leaving the cryptic message “Ask mother,” written on the walls of one murder scene. Vincent Price, owner of Kyne News Service, part of a media empire comprising ten newspapers, a wire service, and other interests, offers the position of executive director to three employees in order to draw them into cutthroat competition with each other. Soon it becomes clear that finding the identity of the “lipstick killer” is the winning move. Intrigue and subterfuge take over the office. Everyone gets involved, from senior editors to stringers to gossip columnist Ida Lupino, but the killer is too clever to be caught.

At least until intrepid Pulitzer Prize winning television reporter Dana Andrews airs a scornful and taunting broadcast, deliberately setting up his own fiancée as bait. He doesn't even ask her permission. Well, he does, but only after arranging to publish their engagement announcement in the New York Sentinel right next to a story about the killer. Reckless? Yes. Presumptuous? For sure. There are intertwined plotlines here, but Andrews using his true love as a lure was the most interesting aspect for us. He isn't the only heel on display. The movie is ostensibly about a serial killer, but is really a framework for exposing backbiting and cynical ambition in the big city. Director Fritz Lang, in what was his penultimate U.S. film, explores the cruel banality of what, these days, some call “hustle culture,” and brings the production to a conclusion that's, in the words of Thomas Mitchell's character, “Neat, but nasty.” Our words are: a mandatory watch. While the City Sleeps had a special world premiere today in 1956.
Edit: Vintage movies are excellent windows into bygone customs and practices. There's a great moment in this one. Rhonda Fleming and James Craig are chatting in her apartment late one night when the doorbell unexpectedly buzzes. They look at each other confused for a second, then Fleming says, “It's probably the drugstore. That was the last bottle of Scotch.”

You know, there were a lot of things wrong with the mid-century era. But there were a few things right too. Getting the all-night drugstore to deliver booze has to be one of the most right things we've ever heard of, so we give thanks to While the City Drinks—er Sleeps—for clueing us in, and suggest you call your congressional rep immediately and ask for a law allowing pharmacies to deliver alcohol. If not for yourself, do it for the children. 
 
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Vintage Pulp Jan 27 2018
DEAD SILENCE
Counterfeiters and Nazi agents clash in wartime Los Angeles.


When we saw Quiet Please: Murder on the Noir City slate and realized we'd never heard of it we decided to watch it and were treated to an interesting flick about sellers of literary forgeries who get in over their heads when they cheat the representatives of Nazis. Apparently, Hermann Göring is accumulating items he expects to maintain value in the event of post-war inflation, and a rare quarto of Hamlet fits the bill. George Sanders and Gail Patrick are the crooked vendors who run afoul of the Nazis, as well as the cop hero played by Richard Denning. The movie is remembered for its central scene involving an air raid drill that plunges heroes and villains into a blackout at a crucial moment, but the primary benefit here is watching Sanders, who was Russian born but learned a clenched-jaw upper class English accent that made his voice unique in film. He's a perfect baddie here, shooting a librarian to acquire the original Hamlet, pimp slapping his partner Patrick, and in general being shady as fuck. Thanks to him Quiet Please: Murder is an entertaining little b-noir.

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Vintage Pulp Feb 7 2011
KILLER HANGOVER
Little known 1945 thriller Hangover Square is close to flawless.

We’re just going to come out and tell you that 1945’s Hangover Square is a tour de force. It’s one of those titles we never quite got around to, but we fixed that last week and rarely have we made better use of ninety minutes. A Victorian melodrama, a mystery, and a thriller, Hangover Square tells the story of a brilliant composer beset by blackouts during which he fears a dark and violent side of his personality emerges to wreak havoc Jack the Ripper-style on nocturnal London.

Every element of the production clicks, but the success of the picture is mainly due to director John Brahm. Working from Patrick Hamilton’s novel written for the screen by Barré Lyndon, the German-born Brahm does no less than put on a directorial clinic. He cut his teeth in Berlin during the boom years of expressionist cinema, and here he uses an array of dynamic tracking shots, dollies, low-angle close-ups and blurry point-of-view sequences to bring this story to life. As good as Brahm is, the film would not have worked without top notch performances and he gets one from his lead, Laird Cregar. Playing a composer named George Harvey Bone, Cregar is by turns baffled, oafish, charming and terrifying. Bone is a good man—that’s clear. The question is whether he remains good during his blackouts or turns into a murderous Mr. Hyde. We don’t have to wait long for the answer.

If Cregar has a dark side, he isn’t the only one. Linda Darnell, playing a cabaret singer named Letta Longdon, is a femme fatale for the ages. Longdon is all sweetness and lovely smiles, but she’s as rotten as she is ravishing, a creature of high ambition and zero morality always plotting ways to use men to climb the ladder of the popular music industry. Nonecan resist her, even though her duplicitous nature is always clear, never more so than in the shot above, in which we see her kissing the smitten George Harvey Bone while looking toward some imagined future gilded with ill-gotten gains.

Other cast members include George Sanders, Faye Marlowe, and Glenn Langan, but it’s Cregar and Darnell that give this story its heat. Cregar, in addition to turning in a great acting performance, plays all of his composer character’s piano parts, and we’re not talking about “Chopsticks.” In several scenes the camera pans from his hands to his face as he pounds out concerto quality music. Sadly, he never got to see Hangover Square finished. He died December 9, 1944, three months before the film was released. He had dropped one hundred pounds for the role in an attempt to break out of the fat man parts he had been playing until then, but the crash diet killed him. It's reasonable to assume, based on his performance here, that he would have succeeded in moving into more mainstream roles. But he never got the chance to deliver on the promise he showed.

We've discussed the directing and acting, but the brilliance of Hangover Square extends beyond those areas. Its technical elements are all wondrous. Particularly impressive are its special effects. It may sound strange to say that about a film made in 1945, but it’s true. In modern films fire is digitally inserted. Before CGI, flames were live, but were produced under controlled conditions via the use of gas jets. But asany fireman will tell you, real fires smoke. That’s what makes them so dangerous. The final sequence of Hangover Square (major spoiler alert) takes place during a fire as Cregar—not a double or stuntman—plays the finale of a symphony while the recital hall burns around him. Brahm uses a single shot, starting on Cregar’s torso and dollying back to show him surrounded by real fire and real smoke. This sequence could not be shot today—no actor would play it, no studio would allow it, and it would probably be illegal to ask a stuntman to do it. In the final moments smoke converges on Cregar from all sides, swallowing him completely. You can see this in the screen captures below. The first thing we did after the credits rolled was pull up a bio on Cregar to see if he survived the shoot. That’s how hairy it looks. And when we saw that he died three months before the film premiered, we were certain he had perished in the fire scene.

He hadn’t, of course, but strangely, Linda Darnell later did die in a fire. When she was forty-one she was caught in a house blaze and the woman who was once crowned by Look magazine as one of the four most beautiful actresses in Hollywood was burned over ninety percent of her body and face. She died a day later in the hospital. It’s truly a shame. But she did leave behind many films, and in our humble opinion she showed that she was the equal of any actress or actor working at that time. We recommend her, and we recommend Hangover Square. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1945. 

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Hollywoodland Jun 11 2009
CARELESS WHISPER
There's a bad moon on the rise.

In our continuing chronicle of mid-20th century tabloid magazines we have a new player—Whisper magazine. Whisper was founded as a girlie magazine in 1946 by Confidential owner Robert Harrison. By the time he sold out in 1958 Whisper was already a clone of Confidential in style and content, although sometimes it sported a simpler cover motif with a celeb framed inside a circle. In this example from 1956, the circle becomes a blood red disc reminiscent of the old Short Stories covers, but which is probably supposed to suggest werewolves. The spotlight here is on George Sanders, one of the more interesting Hollywood characters of the time. Born in Russia, Sanders was British by lineage, and built a film career playing aristocrat types, often with an air of menace. This was most aptly displayed in 1950's All About Eve, a role for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

Sanders was known as a smooth operator, but his personal life was a wreck. He married four women over the years—including serial bride Zsa Zsa Gabor, and her older sister Magda. He would have been between marriages at the time of Whisper’s alleged strike out with an unnamed ingénue, but he’d be back in the saddle by 1960, marrying actress Benita Hume. Health problems eventually robbed Sanders of his acting talent and he finished his career in the low budget stinker Psychomania. Eventually, he also lost the ability to indulge in his beloved hobby of playing music, which prompted him to destroy his piano with an axe. Not long after, he took a fatal dose of Nembutal, leaving behind a suicide note addressed to the world that read in part: I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 14
1921—Sacco & Vanzetti Convicted
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Dedham, Massachusetts of killing their shoe company's paymaster. Even at the time there are serious questions about their guilt, and whether they are being railroaded because of their Italian ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs.
July 13
1933—Eugenics Becomes Official German Policy
Adolf Hitler signs the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and Germany begins sterilizing those they believe carry hereditary illnesses, and those they consider impure. By the end of WWII more than 400,000 are sterilized, including criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, Jews, and people of mixed German-African heritage.
1955—Ruth Ellis Executed
Former model Ruth Ellis is hanged at Holloway Prison in London for the murder of her lover, British race car driver David Blakely. She is the last woman executed in the United Kingdom.
1966—Richard Speck Rampage
Richard Speck breaks into a Chicago townhouse where he systematically rapes and kills eight student nurses. The only survivor hides under a bed the entire night.
July 12
1971—Corona Sent to Prison
Mexican-born serial killer Juan Vallejo Corona is convicted of the murders of 25 itinerant laborers. He had stabbed each of them, chopped a cross in the backs of their heads with a machete, and buried them in shallow graves in fruit orchards in Sutter County, California. At the time the crimes were the worst mass murders in U.S. history.
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