The future is a dead Issue.
Once again we've chosen what we think is the best poster for a vintage film. In this case it's the urban drama Dead End with Humphrey Bogart, and the poster is one painted by Jean Mascii for the French release as La rue sans issue. Bogart features prominently in both the art and film, but the rest of cast includes Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea, Claire Trevor, and Wendy Barrie. We're talking good, solid actors—two of them future Academy Award winners—and they make Dead End an excellent movie. In addition it was based on a play by Sidney Kingsley, with the script penned by Lillian Hellman, more top talent. Kingsley had already won a Pulitzer Prize, and Hellman had written many hit plays.
The plot of Dead End covers a day on a slummy dead end street in Manhattan on the East River, and the characters that interact there. The area is in the midst of gentrification, with fancy townhouses displacing longtime residents mired by the effects of the Great Depression. Because of construction on the next block the cosseted owners of a luxury home must for several days use their back entrance, which opens onto the dead end street. Thus you get interaction between all levels of society. There are the lowliest streets punks, an educated architect who can't find work, a woman who intends to marry for security instead of love, a gangster who's returned to his old neighborhood hoping to reconnect with his first love, and the rich man and his family.
There's plenty going on in the film, but as always we like to keep our write-ups short, so for our purposes we'll focus on the gangster, Humphrey Bogart, and his former girl, Claire Trevor. Bogart has risen to the top ranks of crime through smarts and ruthlessness, but to him Trevor represents a cleaner past and possibly a better future. He waits on the street for a glimpse of her, and when that finally happens he's thrilled. Trevor is less so, but there's no doubt she still loves Bogie. When he says he'll take her away from the slum she balks. It soon dawns on Bogie that she doesn't intend to leave, and he's devastated and confused. Trevor is evasive at first, then, pressured by Bogart, finally shouts, “I'm tired! I'm sick! Can't you see it! Look at me good! You're looking at me the way I used to be!” With that she moves from shadow:
Bogart takes a good look, from bottom to top:
And he realizes she is sick. Though it's unspoken, he realizes she has syphilis. All his dreams come crashing down in that devastating moment. He's disgusted, and it leads to an astonishing exchange of dialogue.
Bogart: Why didn't you get a job?
Trevor: They don't grow on trees.
Bogart: Why didn't you starve first?
Trevor: Why didn't you? Well? What did you expect?
Bogart escaped the poverty of that dead end street through organized crime, and killed on his rise to riches. Trevor had to survive through prostitution. Bogart thinks he's better than her; she tells him he's not. In his toxic male world, murder is less offensive than sex. He's the one who's twisted—not her. In addition to a great film moment, it's a clever Hays Code workaround. Nothing about sex, prostitution, or venereal disease could be stated, but through clever writing, acting, context, and direction—by William Wyler—the facts were clear to audiences. The rest of the story arcs are just as involving, and the movie on the whole is a mandatory drama. Dead End premiered in the U.S. in 1937, and in France today in 1938.
Well, you're right. I'm mainly angry at myself. But I'm going to take it out on you.
Pre-Code star Clara Bow looks mighty miffed in this promo shot made for her 1928 Paramount drama Ladies of the Mob, in which she plays the daughter of a lifelong criminal who falls in love with a crook and tries to reform him. Interesting trivia: because bullet squibs wouldn't be invented until around 1943, for shooting scenes studios often employed marksmen to fire real bullets near actors. Both Bow and her co-star Richard Arlen were injured by ricocheting fragments. Which brings us back to the photo. We like to imagine Bow facing Paramount head honcho Jesse Lasky and saying, “Don't worry, Jesse—I'm just going to shoot near you.”
Fragility goes back a long, long way.
This famous image appears around the internet, but usually in blurry condition. Today we have a nice, sharp version. It was made by Hollywood photographer Whitey Shafer to satirize the Hays Code censorship regime that came to the motion picture industry like an unwanted guest, and determined what could be shown on movie screens. A reactionary minority believed Americans were too fragile of character to see certain depictions in cinema. Schafer, in his image, chose ten of those no-nos and squeezed them all into one frame. He needed to overlay the machine gun, but it looks like he composed the other nine elements at the same time.
Many websites give the date on this as 1934. The Hays Code began strict enforcement that year, but Schafer didn't create his photographic provocation until 1940. He unveiled it at the inaugural Hollywood Studios Still Show in 1941, which had been created by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize outstanding still photography. Shafer was threatened with a $2,000 fine, which we suspect didn't surprise him. He escaped the penalty, but the photo was banned until turning up in a newspaper decades later—posthumously, since Schafer died in 1951. But his image is remembered. It isn't just razor sharp commentary. It's an amazing creation. We'd be interested to know who the model is, but that information, unfortunately, seems lost.
Life sure was nice before the prudes came along.
This promo photo was made for the 1933 pre-Code musical Footlight Parade, which, as the image suggests, contained some fairly racy scenes. James Cagney is in the center here, with Ruby Keeler at left, two actresses we can't identify, and Lorraine Marshall at right. Movies made in 1933 and before are generally considered pre-Code, but the Hays Code censorship regime actually was created in increments beginning in 1927 before reaching something like final form in 1930. Few people had any interest in enforcing it right away, so it didn't become rigid until 1934, at which point it successfully shackled cinematic expression for thirty years, until Hollywood was driven to imitate the envelope pushing films coming out of Europe. The Code covered anything and everything: drugs, profanity, ridicule of the clergy, defeat of the law, and more, but of course it was primarily designed to block sexual material, which means that in practical terms, Cagney never got to be the center of a sandwich like this in a photo again.
Some people handle interpersonal conflict with dialogue. Don't you wish I were one of those people?
This rather threatening photo shows U.S. pre-Code actress and former Ziegfeld Girl Jeanne Eagels seeming to gleefully aim for the gonads. She goes way back, having made her first screen appearances in 1913. She also died very young, of the oldest of Hollywood bugaboos, an overdose, a year after this photo was made. It was shot as promo for her drama The Letter in 1929.
Tired of checkers, chess, and cards? Has he got a game for you.
Man hunted in the wild by a supposedly more intelligent and powerful foe is a concept used numerous times in Hollywood with great success, perhaps reaching its pinnacle with 1987's sci-fi actioner Predator. The idea goes all the way back to The Most Dangerous Game, a pre-Code chiller starring Joel McCrae, Leslie Banks, and Fay Wray. When a luxury yacht of upper crust types runs aground off the Pacific coast of South America, only McCrae survives. He's landed on a jungle island owned by a mad Russian named Count Zaroff, played with walleyed fervor by Banks, who hunts humans for kicks.
Zaroff's creepy ole stone mansion doesn't look like a place where one might hope to find aid, but McCrae has no choice but to go there. He isn't the only stranded raw meat hanging around. Boats occasionally crash because the Count moved the channel markers that are supposed to warn boaters away from the rocks. With each shipwreck he has new game to hunt. Wray is already on the island, having run aground before McCrae. She has an inkling things are not kosher, and she turns out to be correct.
The movie is stagy and clunky in its expository sequences, like most pre-Code productions, and Wray's acting is a sheer hoot, but there are positives. There's striking outdoor footage shot around Rancho Palos Verdes, which adds excellent imagery to a film that is indisputably a high visual achievement, and that in turn helps the action sequences come across as both gripping and believable. And of course the basic idea always works. Hunter and hunted, a battle of wits, a match to the death. The Most Dangerous Game premiered today in 1932.
*sigh* I'm getting mighty fucking bored on this island. Even my best formal wear doesn't lift my mood anymore. My God. I suddenly have the most dastardly idea. And now we shall play a very dangerous game! Staring like cats! We'll be in danger of enjoying ourselves! Stand against the wall and I'll throw this knife at you. I mean—not at you. Close enough to be dangerous. I mean— Okay, I can see you're not into it. How about a little Russian roulette? That's a fairly dangerous game. Erm... Joel? I think we should flee before he gets to the most dangerous game. We're lost aren't we? I said flee. I didn't say flee with no goddamn idea which way you were going. Are you sure we shouldn't have turned left back there at the bog of doom? Just admit you're lost, Joel. And not to add to your worries, but I'm getting pretty hungry. If I'm snippy it's your fault. Okay, now we're just going in circles. See? He's found us! You never listen! Count! Can you hear me? I'll make you a deal! Take her, and let me leave!
I thought about it and decided that an amicable break-up was letting you off too easy.
This striking promo image shows U.S. actress Sylvia Sidney and was made for her pre-Code gangster drama City Streets, in which she starred with Hollywood Legend Gary Cooper. The movie was based on a story idea by Dashiell Hammett. But back to Sidney, she was a legend too, who had an astonishingly long career that began with 1926's The Sorrows of Satan and ended well over a hundred screen and television credits later with thirteen guest spots on Fantasy Island in 1998 and 1999. In between she appeared in movies as diverse as 1988's Beetlejuice, 1932's Madame Butterfly, and 1945's Blood on the Sun. The above photo is from 1931.
When Mansfield makes a promise she keeps it—and then some.
Check out the poster at top for the infamous Jayne Mansfield movie Promises! Promises! It's so garish it almost hurts the eyes, but we think it's top notch, a framable classic made for an important cinematic landmark. Around the time this film was produced, Hollywood, for both financial and artistic reasons, was pushing the boundaries of censorship. There had been nude scenes prior to the advent of the creativity-strangling Hays Code, but from the mid-30s to 1960s there were no naughty bits onscreen. Europe was well ahead in that regard, with late 1950s films such as And God Created Woman taking advantage of greater freedoms to include snippets of nudity by major stars. In the U.S., low budget nudie flicks were being made, but no legit star had crossed the line. Marilyn Monroe probably would have been the first, but her flash in 1961's The Misfits was cut, and 1962's Something's Got To Give was never completed.
Cue Mansfield—also so garish she almost hurts the eyes—suffering from a career slump and deciding to seize the nude crown with both hands. Promises! Promises! falls into that classic American category of the schlub sex comedy, which is to say, the lead male is an unremarkable everyman miraculously paired up with a beauty. This formula holds true in American movies and television even today—think Big Bang Theory or Ross from Friends. The plot deals with two childless married couples on a cruise who get pregnant but suspect it happened because the husbands cheated with each other's wives. It sounds like a ripe concept, but unfortunately the filmmakers forgot one of the main ingredients necessary for a sex comedy—laughs. Promises! Promises! is borderline moronic.
But bad movies often make a mint. The producers' bet that audiences wanted to see Mansfield nude was correct. Sophomoric as the resulting film was, it was a big hit, though only non-U.S. filmgoers got to see the uncensored version at first. That's the one we watched, and the promise of a skinful experience was fully delivered—and then some. While Mansfield doesn't show her girlfur, she's naked as a Jaynebird from every angle, and her bare segments are also shown as flashbacks several times to let audiences relive those golden moments. To say she broke the censorship barrier is an understatement. She splintered it and stomped the pieces while screaming at them to stay down. So if you watch this you'll not only be flirting with a boner—you'll be watching a legitimate historical landmark. What more reason do you need? Promises! Promises! premiered in the U.S. today in 1963.
Without a doubt seeing you is always the best part of my day.
This cute photo shows U.S. actress Joan Blondell, who started her showbiz career in Vaudeville, and later made numerous pre-Code films, including The Public Enemy and Blonde Crazy. It was shot when she was making the 1936 film Stage Struck, in which she starred with her husband Dick Powell.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1985—Matt Munro Dies
English singer Matt Munro, who was one of the most popular entertainers on the international music scene during the 1960s and sang numerous hits, including the James Bond theme "From Russia with Love," dies from liver cancer at Cromwell Hospital, Kensington, London.
1958—Plane Crash Kills 8 Man U Players
British European Airways Flight 609 crashes attempting to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, West Germany. On board the plane is the Manchester United football team, along with a number of supporters and journalists. 20 of the 44 people on board die in the crash.
1919—United Artists Is Launched
Actors Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, along with director D.W. Griffith, launch United Artists. Each holds a twenty percent stake, with the remaining percentage held by lawyer William Gibbs McAdoo. The company struggles for years, with Griffith soon dropping out, but eventually more partners are brought in and UA becomes a Hollywood powerhouse.
1958—U.S. Loses H-Bomb
A 7,600 pound nuclear weapon that comes to be known as the Tybee Bomb is lost by the U.S. Air Force off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, near Tybee Island. The bomb was jettisoned to save the aircrew during a practice exercise after the B-47 bomber carrying it collided in midair with an F-86 fighter plane. Following several unsuccessful searches, the bomb was presumed lost, and remains so today.
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