Vintage Pulp Apr 28 2024
CRAWFORD IN THE PINK
Joan is in her sweet spot with a challenging film role.


How do you judge a great acting performance? One way is when beforehand you look at the performer and the part and say, “Impossible, doesn't fit, can't possibly work,” then it does. Flamingo Road, which premiered in the U.S today in 1949, features Joan Crawford as a carny performer and it doesn't fit. But probably nobody would seem to fit. The main character evolves over years from carny chippie into upper crust lady, so either way a filmmaker would have to make a difficult choice—cast an ingenue who evolves into a sophisticated middle-aged woman, or cast a mature actress and hope she can play young. They chose the later option with Crawford, and it can't possibly work. But this is Crawford we're talking about—she could make most any role work, and does so here with a typically assured performance.

Flamingo Road is set in the American south and is about the social mores and political machinations of a small but wealthy town. The title refers to the enclave where the rich and powerful live together in their mansions and manors. The carny version of Crawford falls for local deputy sherrif Zachary Scott, but he's been tabbed by local kingpin Sydney Greenstreet to be his puppet in the state senate. As part of that plan Scott is to marry into wealth. Cavorting with a carny isn't going to fly. Greenstreet decides to break them up, or hurt Crawford trying, and there's nothing so underhanded or injurious that he won't do it. Crawford, though, is tougher than anyone expects, and what she learns from her travails is, first: she's going to make it to Flamingo Road no matter what it takes; and second: she will have her revenge. That's all we'll tell you about the plot.

Flamingo Road is another of those movies that's often called a film noir, and while we don't try to be gatekeepers of what is and isn't noir—because we have no authority to do so—we also don't avoid stating the obvious. Flamingo Road isn't a film noir. Some entities, including respected ones, have a vested interest in casting the noir net as widely as possible. If you host noir festivals, for example, after a while you need to expand your defintion of noir to keep your slate fresh. If you write film noir books, you might want to demonstrate that you think outside the box by including Chinatown or Lat sau san taam or The Limey (all excellent movies, by the way).

At the opposite extreme, several prominent critics attest that film noir doesn't exist at all. That's like saying there's no such thing as superhero movies because costumed heroes are just further iterations of superpowered characters such as Rambo. Superhero movies exist. So does film noir, though it resides within the wider genres of crime and drama. However, it's too easy to call any movie with conflict and a few neon-splashed night sequences a noir. Film noir is as much thematic as it is iconographic. In every way that we can discern, Flamingo Road isn't one. The definitive American Film Institute calls it a melodrama. We agree. It's a melodrama in which a good actress, aged north of forty, overcomes difficult casting to knock her years-spanning role out of the park.
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Femmes Fatales Mar 16 2018
PARDON THE INTERRUPTION
I call it the Gertruder because its always sticking its nose into my business.


Above is a promo photo of U.S. actress Gertrude Michael made for the 1937 crime drama Sophie Lang Goes West, about a jewel thief trying to retire and the people who won't let her. It's a virtually unknown film, but a pretty good one. We haven't talked about it because we can't find a good poster scan for it, but we'll keep looking.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 24
1915—Ship Capsizes on Lake Michigan
During an outing arranged by Western Electric Co. for its employees and their families, the passenger ship Eastland capsizes in Lake Michigan due to unequal weight distribution. 844 people die, including all the members of 22 different families.
1980—Peter Sellers Dies
British movie star Peter Sellers, whose roles in Dr. Strangelove, Being There and the Pink Panther films established him as the greatest comedic actor of his generation, dies of a heart attack at age fifty-four.
July 23
1984—Miss America Resigns
Vanessa Williams, who had been crowned Miss America and was the first African American woman to win the prize, resigns her title after Penthouse magazine purchases and slates for publication a series of lesbian-themed nudes Williams had posed for when she was younger. After resigning she files a $500 million lawsuit against Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione but later drops the suit.
July 22
1992—Cocaine Baron Escapes Prison
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, imprisoned leader of the Medellin drug cartel, escapes from a posh Colombian jail known as La Catedral after he learns authorities intend to move him to a real prison. His taste of freedom doesn't last—he's killed in a shootout a year-and-a-half later.
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