Even Powell and Loy's legendary act was bound to get tired eventually.
There's nice Roger Soubie art on this French poster for Song of the Thin Man, the last of six movies in the Thin Man series, which premiered in the U.S. in 1947 and reached France today in 1948. After six sessions the concept might seem a little worn to some viewers, but it still has William Powell and Myrna Loy as the leads. The mystery involves the death of an orchestra musician and the search for a missing bandleader, which leads to Powell and Loy exploring New York City's jazz underground. It's an all-white underground spread across various clubs, gambling boats, and parties, populated by at least fifty musicians, none of them of color. Of all the sight gags in the movie, the barring of black musicians from a film revolving around the art form they invented is the most notable one of all, but that's mid-century moviemaking for you.
The jazz gimmick is useful anyway, because it gives the filmmakers the opportunity to have Powell—as upper class supersleuth Nick Charles—play the role of a fish out of water. He understands neither the hipster jazzcats nor their customs and slang, and in about half a decade probably turns into the white-haired bartender from The Wild One. Even so, he needs to find and unmask a murderer in order to free a wrongly accused acquaintance from police custody. In true Thin Man fashion, he quips his way through the proceedings, plays cagey with femmes fatales Marie Windsor and Gloria Grahame, and finally unveils the killer in a nightclub populated by all the suspects. Loy is reliable as always in the sidekick role, and even amusingly picks up a few words of hep lingo.
While Dashiell Hammett originated the two characters of Nick and Nora Charles, he didn't touch Song of the Thin Man. Instead it was written by veteran crime novelist Steve Fisher and comedy writer Nat Perrin. Their union, unlike Nick and Nora's marriage, is an uneasy pairing, though it's hard to put a finger on what exactly is wrong. The mystery has an interesting backdrop, but is never compelling, while the humor seems clunkier than in the past. Powell and Loy do their best, but the movie failed to earn back its production budget, and the franchise came to an end. There were screenwriting and production issues, but we suspect that the real culprit was simple boredom—slayer of movie series and marriages alike. Audiences had simply moved on. World War, generational cynicism, and the emergence of grittier cinema will tend to cause that. Song of the Thin Man premiered today in 1947.
Two tough guys plus one Gloria Grahame add up to minus one tough guy.
This rare promo for the film noir Naked Alibi shows Gloria Grahame caught between mortal enemies Sterling Hayden and Gene Barry. The movie premiered in the U.S. today in 1954. We talked about it last year. Shorter version: b movie tries hard but could b better.
Who needs a good script when you have Mitchum and Russell?
Above is a surpassingly lovely poster for the thriller Macao with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, reunited by RKO Studios after the previous year's His Kind of Woman. It's always interesting how old movies introduce the romantic leads to each other. In filmmaking parlance, these encounters are sometimes called “meet-cutes.” But it isn't very cute for the man to have to save the woman from a sexual assault. It's also not cute when the price for being saved is an uninvited kiss, but this is the early fifties and in movies you have to expect that stuff. Nonconsensual wrestling match—bad. Nonconsensual kiss—okay. Mitchum goes in for his reward and Russell doesn't mind.
We joked about these two being the best looking pair you can find in vintage cinema, and they're both in top form here. The honchos at RKO knew they had a dream pairing. Placing them in an exotic port, giving them an obstacle to overcome, writing them some quips, and hiring a respected director like Josef von Sternberg and charging him with capturing Casbalanca-style magic was a no-brainer. The adventure involves Mitchum coming across a stolen diamond, then trying to sell more gems to a local criminal kingpin. Little does he know that it's all a scheme hatched by an American police lieutenant to capture said kingpin, leaving Mitchum stuck in the dangerous middle. Russell plays a lounge singer and seems ancillary to all the intrigue, but as the plot evolves she becomes central to the caper. Macao has its moments, and we certainly enjoyed it, but objectively speaking it's a middling effort, with too many narrative holes and too much boilerplate dialogue to offer any real thrills. The caper isn't compelling, and the villain—played by Brad Dexter as if he's on Quaaludes—has no real sense of menace. So the movie has the exotic port, the obstacle, and the quips—but no magic. Mitchum gets the girl, though, so that's something. Or maybe Russell gets the boy. However you prefer. What we'd prefer is more of this pairing, but sadly this was the last time the two starred together. While both their collaborations are watchable, they never made the blockbuster their onscreen chemistry deserved. Why not? Probably because Macao flopped so hard. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1952.
Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin, and Gloria Grahame raise the temperature in Italy.
Above, three Italian posters for Il grande caldo, better known as The Big Heat. The top piece was painted by Ezio Tarantelli, and the middle one is by Anselmo Ballester, both of whom we featured a while back, here and here. We already talked about the film. If you haven't watched it, try to make the time. It's good.
The temperature rises and the bodies fall in Fritz Lang's tense film noir.
In the thriller The Big Heat, which is based on a novel by William P. McGivern and directed by Fritz Lang, Glenn Ford plays one of the toughest men you'll find in film noir—ass kicking detective Dave Bannon, whose clash with organized crime sends him down a rogue path that leaves people battered, bruised, bloodied, burnt, and blown up. He co-starred with Gloria Grahame, and the way the plot develops, she turns out to be every bit as tough. We can't tell you anything about the movie others already haven't about a thousand times, so we're focusing instead on this top notch promo poster, a framable classic in the panel format we love. You'll see this online only occasionally because it's way too rare for sellers to ever have in stock, but it's a fitting piece for such a great movie. The Big Heat premiered in the U.S. today in 1953.
Good thing they were both professional actors. They could act like this wasn't weird.
We have a feeling this promo image of Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame made for their 1953 film noir The Big Heat never got published. Handout photos such as these were provided by studios—in this case Columbia Pictures—to the press for usage when writing about various movies, but what newspaper or magazine would have used this? It's beyond provocative for back then, and in fact its bizarre, coercive feel would make the internet explode even today, were any two stars to pose in this way. Amazingly, promos for vintage thrillers often featured female stars sitting or kneeling within phallus range. In fact, we've seen enough to consider putting together a collection. We'll give that some thought while you glance at another example we shared a while ago.
Gloria Grahame's three-step plan for dealing with a problem—aim, fire, assess.
These photos of U.S. actress Gloria Grahame come from one of our favorite old movies, the film noir The Big Heat, in which she starred with Glenn Ford. How many good films was Grahame in? Plenty, including The Bad and the Beautiful, Crossfire, the amazing In a Lonely Place, Human Desire, The Glass Wall, and Odds Against Tomorrow. Outside the drama/noir genres, she was also in It's a Wonderful Life, which is one of the most watched U.S. films of all time, and Oklahoma!. In The Big Heat she plays the prototypical film noir bad girl who wants to be good but has a hard time getting there. We won't say more. Just check it out. The photo is from 1953.
They'll have to choose what they hate more—their circumstances or each other.
The Noir City Film Festival rolls on with Robert Wise's 1959 thriller Odds Against Tomorrow. Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan star in a heist story that brings a touch of underground jazz and an edge of racial tension to the narrative mix. It would play nicely on a double bill with In the Heat of the Night, but fits at Noir City too. In fact it might be the darkest film noir on the bill. Belafonte is in debt to mobsters and Ryan is broke and feels emasculated being supported by his girlfriend. When ex-cop Ed Begley brings the two together for a lucrative robbery both see it as the only answer. The robbery has the same problems associated with any heist, with the added complication of Ryan's racism.
Some reviews of this film try to suggest equivalence between these two characters. Uh, no. Belafonte's separatist leanings and distrust of whites in a society that is unfair toward him is a precaution; Ryan's separatist leanings and distrust of blacks in a society that favors him is oppression. This is a basic sociological truth as it relates to power in any society, and it's irksome that some reviewers miss this. Belafonte respondsto aggressive hate with reactive hate. The expectation that he possess superhuman forbearance while his oppressor can be merely human removes context and wrongly demands that everybody behave identically despite their different circumstances and different locations within the spectrum of power.
Much of the movie examines Belafonte's and Ryan's respective attitudes along these lines, with the heist coming in a flurry of action at the end. The robbery is basically foolproof, but only if the powder keg of racial resentment doesn't blow it sky high. The points Wise is making here, which originate with William P. McGivern's novel, are simply these: cooperate and succeed, or fight and fail. All Ryan needs to do is extend the hand of respect, but because of his prejudice he fails again and again, which hardens Belafonte's already suspicious attitudes. Who do these two hate more—their circumstances or each other? That's what Odds Against Tomorrow asks, about its characters, and America. Noir City festivalgoers will leave the cinema talking about this one.
The thrill of the Chasse.
This promo poster from Colombia Pictures was made to promote the Belgian run of the film noir Chasse à l'homme, better known as The Glass Wall. This is an interesting one. Starring Vittorio Gassman and Gloria Grahame, the movie is set at the end of World War II and tells the story of a Hungarian refugee who arrives in New York harbor as a stowaway on a ship. Onboard immigration cops catch him, but he eludes them and jumps ship to search for a war buddy who can prove he has the right to legal residency under a special exemption for those who aided Allied soldiers. He must find this friend who can prove his bona fides, and do it within twenty four hours or be permanently barred from the U.S. A photo in the morning paper alerts the public and Chasse à l'homme becomes a double manhunt—the hero's search for his buddy, and the cops' search for the hero. The film is obviously a piece of light propaganda concerning the desirability of life in the U.S., but as a noir it also shows a darker side to American society, such as when Gloria Grahame is under threat of eviction, and when the landlady's son tries to force himself on her. Gassman was an experienced actor by this point, and Grahame, as noted on the poster, had already won an Academy Award for The Bad and the Beautiful. Both do solid work here. The movie opened in the U.S. in March of 1953 and reached Brussels, Belgium today in 1954.
Caught between the dark and a hard place.
This 1949 Pocket Books paperback of In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes is a rarity. The novel is abundantly available today, but the first edition paperback you see above is hard to find. The story was made into a 1950 movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, but the final product bears little resemblance to the novel. Actually, the movie is a lesson in how source material can be completely cannibalized yet still made into a superior product. In a Lonely Place the movie, after all, is considered one of the best of the mid-century noirs. We said the same about it last year. But unlike the film, Hughes' novel leaves no doubt that her main character Dixon Steele is a murderer. In fact, it's the central plot device—he kills a wealthy man and assumes his identity. The novel is said to be an inspiration for Patricia Highsmith's famed murderous grifter Tom Ripley. The nice art on In a Lonely Place was painted by Frank McCarthy, a prolific illustrator of paperbacks and magazine covers who toward the end of his career moved into fine art with frontier and western themes. We've featured him before and he'll doubtless pop up again.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1992—Sci Fi Channel Launches
In the U.S., the cable network USA debuts the Sci Fi Channel, specializing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal programming. After a slow start, it built its audience and is now a top ten ranked network for male viewers aged 18–54, and women aged 25–54.
1952—Chaplin Returns to England
Silent movie star Charlie Chaplin returns to his native England for the first time in twenty-one years. At the time it is said to be for a Royal Society benefit, but in reality Chaplin knows he is about to be banned from the States because of his political views. He would not return to the U.S. for twenty years.
1910—Duke of York's Cinema Opens
The Duke of York's Cinema opens in Brighton, England, on the site of an old brewery. It is still operating today, mainly as a venue for art films, and is the oldest continually operating cinema in Britain.
1975—Gerald Ford Assassination Attempt
Sara Jane Moore, an FBI informant who had been evaluated and deemed harmless by the U.S. Secret Service, tries to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford. Moore fires one shot at Ford that misses, then is wrestled to the ground by a bystander named Oliver Sipple.
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