Oh, just hanging around the apartment making sure my liver knows who's boss. What about you?
Above is a promo photo of U.S. actress Dorothy Mackaill having a confab and several nightcaps in the 1931 crime drama Safe in Hell, in which she played a New Orleans prostitute who accidentally kills an abusive man and tries to escape to the Caribbean. Like many films made before censorship came into effect in the form of the Hays Code, it's racy stuff for the era, made for an audience of mature, intelligent adults. It's also quite good, though possibly hard to find. If you get a chance, be sure to check it out.
If clothes make the man, then clothes make the woman fabulous.
Above is a beautiful soft focus photo of U.S. actress Gwen Lee, née Gwendolyn Lepinski, wearing a striking dress made of a metallic looking fabric and decorated with fur and what seem to be diamond shaped mirrors. There's also a diamond shaped cut-out on her torso. So all-in-all this is a pretty amazing garment. She started as a model, moved into acting as a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player, and appeared in several dozen films between 1925 and 1938. She was considered an archetypal flapper and that's exactly what she looks like in this photo. It's from around 1928.
She's going to pay back everything she owes—plus interest.
In the pre-Code film The Cheat, Tallulah Bankhead plays a compulsive gambler who, due to her extensive debts, is branded on her chest by the sadistic man to whom she owes a bundle. You can see the mark near her left shoulder. Interestingly, it's kanji—i.e. Chinese logographic characters used as part of the Japanese alphabet—and it says “I possess.” Well, her cruel creditor doesn't possess her gun, and we have a feeling he'll be sorry he doesn't. The photo is from 1931.
It's incredible what the Southern California sun can do to your skin.
Myrna Loy goes for sultry and inscrutable in this promo photo from her pre-Code silent movie Across the Pacific, in which she plays a half-Filipina girl named Roma. Yeah, it's a stretch, but she does look quite sexy with frizzed out hair and dark skin. All prints of Across the Pacific (not to be confused with the later Humphrey Bogart movie) are considered lost, but Loy was at the beginning of a long career that would encompass scores of movies and span a remarkable seven decades, so there's no shortage of opportunities to see her work. This image is from 1926.
Bette Davis tries to hang on to her freedom in a man's world.
This is a killer poster. You'd think Ex-Lady was a crime movie about a deadly femme fatale, but it'a actually a breezy little drama about a modern Manhattanite—played by a twenty-five-year old Bette Davis—who has always rejected marriage in favor of freedom and fun. She has a lover—made pretty clear in this pre-Code production—as well as a career as a commercial artist, but society and her father apply pressure for her to be conventional. Davis is fun in this, playing a woman who's smart and sweet, ambitious yet insouciant, and great with a quip. She's basically perfect, and this movie is an instructive artifact from the Jazz Age, a time when sexual mores went out the window and women began having sex before marriage. In fact, some data suggests the majority of unmarried women were non-virgins before tying the knot. Will Davis retain her independence? Will she marry and turn into Susie Normal? Can she and her boy toy Gene Raymond hang on to their love in this crazy mixed up world? We aren't telling. This is worth a watch, though some dialogue that's meant to be snappy comes across flat today. As a side note, though the film wasn't censored, several scenes would have been cut had it been released a few years later. See if you can spot them. You'll have to think like a Hays Code censor—i.e. a repressed, dirty-minded killjoy who sees filth in everything. Ex-Lady premiered in the U.S. today in 1933.
You’re a spoiled boy, Tommy. You want things and you’re not content until you get them.
One thing about writing Pulp Intl. is it gives us an excuse to fill in blanks in our movie résumé. The Public Enemy, starring James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, and Joan Blondell, was one such blank—until last night. A rags-to-riches-to-ruin story, it was one of the earliest gangster flicks, one that was a big hit but which had suffered the scissors of Hays Code censors. It’s always interesting to note the scenes cut from a post-Code movie, because those say the most about attitudes of the times. For example, the scene in which Cagney is measured for a suit by a gay tailor differs in no discernable way from such scenes in today’s movies. There’s macho discomfort by the lead and effeminate fussing by the tailor that leads to the inevitable inseam measuring, all played for cheap humor. We don’t condemn or endorse this sort of thing—it’s just fascinating to see how little has changed in eighty some years. Two other scenes were cut due to sexual suggestiveness, and those are also quite interesting to watch.
But what’s most important of course is James Cagney, and he is indeed amazing as Tom Powers, a kid whose ambition propels him toward the big cash and high risk of the Chicago bootlegging underworld. Not only was The Public Enemy a career-solidifying role for Cagney; it brought Jean Harlow to the notice of a much wider audience than she had reached up to that point. Her true breakout would come months later in The Platinum Blonde, but to be blunt, it’s lucky for her she had Howard Hughes molding her career, because her performance in The Public Enemy could have killed her chances to land a starring role. To a certain extent, she’s supposed to be damaged goods, someone who isn’t ever particularly fazed or impressed or emotive, but the scenes she should ignite—like the one in which she tells Cagney he’s just a spoiled boy—feel like rehearsals for later, better work. Contemporary reviewers agreed, panning her performance, but Harlow doesn’t damage the film. She isn’t really given much to work with, so watch this for Cagney, who scorches. The Public Enemy premiered in the U.S. today in 1931.
Lucy, you got some ’splainin’ to do.
Here’s a rare promo shot from the 1933 pre-Hays Code musical Roman Scandals, an interesting film about a guy from West Rome, Oklahoma who has a vivid dream that he lives in ancient Rome. If you can deal with the sight of Eddie Cantor cavorting in blackface, it’s probably worth a rental. The movie was produced by the Samuel Goldwyn Company, and starred Sam Goldwyn’s dance troupe the Goldwyn Girls, whose most famous ex-member is Lucille Ball. And in fact, that’s Lucille Ball above, on the right, though it may be hard to believe. Trust us, though. The Hays Code, by the way, was actually enacted in 1930 but ignored until 1934, which is why cinema historians consider Roman Scandals to be a pre-Code production. The Code was finally ditched in 1968, but unfortunately in favor of the almost equally arbitrary MPAA rating system. Below, just for the fun of it, we’ve posted the back of the photo because with its writing and tape marks it strikes us as a pretty nice piece of abstract art. And at bottom we’ve posted a much clearer shot of Miss Ball.
Even southern girls get the blues.
You know we like to share these pulp style covers certain publishing houses cooked up for reprints of serious pieces of literature. Today, it’s William Faulkner’s turn, and the subject is his 1931 novel Sanctuary, which Signet released in 1950 with this cover. Sanctuary was Faulkner’s fifth book and first success, but he wasn’t particularly fond of it, dismissing it as commercial claptrap written purely for financial reasons. If that was truly his intention, it seems like leaving out all the depravity and violence would have been a better way to go about it. In any case, critics did not consider the book lightweight in the least, and a central rape scene involving a corncob understandably generated quite a bit of controversy. When the book was adapted into a 1933 movie entitled The Story of Temple Drake starring Miriam Hopkins, the corncob was removed, but the film still caused a stir and helped bring about the introduction of the Hays Code—the censorship doctrine that predated the establishment of the MPAA. In 1961 Sanctuary was adapted again, and this time not only was the corncob removed, but a sizeable chunk of Faulkner’s original plot. Despite his professed distaste for commercialism, Faulkner had by then worked on dozens of movie projects. He wrote screenplays for To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, and also became a sought after script doctor, massaging projects like Mildred Pierce, The Southerner and Gunga Din. We have a collection of posters from some of his projects below. If you’ve neglected to see any of these films, we highly recommend them and, of course, his novels are well worth a read.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1919—Pollard Breaks the Color Barrier
Fritz Pollard becomes the first African-American to play professional football for a major team, the Akron Pros. Though Pollard is forgotten today, famed sportswriter Walter Camp ranked him as "one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen." In another barrier-breaking historical achievement, Pollard later became the co-head coach of the Pros, while still maintaining his roster position as running back.
1932—Entwistle Leaps from Hollywood Sign
Actress Peg Entwistle
commits suicide by jumping from the letter "H" in the Hollywood sign. Her body lay in the ravine below for two days, until it was found by a detective and two radio car officers. She remained unidentified until her uncle connected the description and the initials "P.E." on the suicide note in the newspapers with his niece's two-day absence.
1908—First Airplane Fatality Occurs
The plane built by Wilbur and Orville Wright, The Wright Flyer, crashes with Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge aboard as a passenger. The accident kills Selfridge, and he becomes the first airplane fatality in history.
1983—First Black Miss America Crowned
Vanessa Williams becomes the first African American Miss America. She later loses her crown when lesbian-themed nude photographs of her are published by Penthouse magazine.
1920—Terrorists Bomb Wall Street
At 12:01 p.m. a bomb loaded into a horse-drawn wagon explodes in front of the J.P.Morgan building in New York City. 38 people are killed and 400 injured. Italian anarchists are thought to be the perpetrators, but after years of investigation no one is ever brought to justice.
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