1957 crime farce offers Slim pickings—at least until Dominique Wilms comes along.
We were busy little beavers last night. We watched a second vintage drama. At least, we thought it was a drama. Above you see an Italian poster for Slim Callaghan... il duro, which was originally made in France as Et par ici la sortie. It had no English title since it never had an English language release, but it was adapted from a novel by British author Peter Cheyney, who made a career of imitating American hard boiled detective novels. As many reviews of his fiction note, the vernacular was tricky for a guy who'd spent little if any time Stateside, making for some clunky prose at times.
When you watch Et par ici la sortie, it's clear that French filmmaker Willy Rozier picked up on the quirkiness of Cheyney's writing and decided to inject heavy doses of comedy into his film version. Thus in addition to gunplay there's a cream pie fight, a slapfest of attrition between Dany Dauberson and Pascale Roberts, a comedic brawl on a passenger airliner that almost results in a crash, and another brawl features that hoary vaudeville classic—seltzer water sprayed in the face. Much of this is hilarious, though not in the way Rozier and Co. intended—you'll laugh out of amazement.
The plot involves a Scotland Yard detective who is the virtual double of a criminal arms dealer, and decides he can infiltrate and bust the arms gang by relying upon this resemblance. But the arms dealer likewise realizes the resemblance and embarks on his own scheme to take advantage. Sounds positively scintillating, doesn't it? Erm... maybe not. But the movie isn't a total loss. Dominique Wilms gets a co-starring role here as the femme fatale Myrna de Maripasula. Think she isn't reason enough to watch? Think again. Et par ici la sortie premiered in France today in 1957.
Lemmy put it to you as directly as possible.
Peter Cheyney debuted as a novelist in 1936 with the Lemmy Caution novel This Man Is Dangerous, and true to the title, his franchise character is one bad mutha-shut-your-mouth. We like the scene where he leg locks a guy around the neck, then proceeds to lecture him for two pages about how he's going to kill him and enjoy it, before actually breaking his neck. The crux of the story involves a plot to kidnap an heiress in London. Cheyney details Caution's wanderings around the dark recesses of the Brit underworld and slings the slang like few writers from the period. Much of it is amusing, though he never quite makes it to the level of “moo juice.”
But here's the thing about loads of slang in vintage literature—it can wear on you after a while. And when paired with a storyline that doesn't exactly sprint like Usain Bolt, it can really wear on you. You have to give Cheyney credit, though. He was unique. And successful. This Man Is Dangerous was adapted to the screen as the French film Cet homme est dangereux in 1956, and numerous other novels of his made it to the moviehouse as well. We weren't thrilled with this tale, but it's significant in the crime genre, and objectively we think many readers will love it. The Fontana edition you see above has amazing cover art by John Rose and was published in 1954.
The FBI stretches its jurisdiction all the way to Morocco in 1953 thriller.
Above, two beautiful Italian posters for F.B.I. divisione criminale, originally titled La môme vert de gris, but known in the U.S. as Poison Ivy. The film was based on a Peter Cheyney novel also named Poison Ivy, and starred Eddie Constantine as an American G-man in Morocco, and Dominique Wilms as a femme fatale known as—you guessed it—Poison Ivy. We talked about the movie at length in May, so if you're curious have a look here.
French crime drama throws Caution to the wind.
Here you see two posters for the 1953 French crime drama La môme vert de gris, which was called Poison Ivy in the U.S. This was adapted from a 1937 novel by Peter Cheyney that featured his recurring character FBI agent Lemmy Caution, who onscreen is played by Eddie Constantine. When two million dollars worth of gold goes missing Constantine is sent to Casablanca to determine its disposition and identify all malefactors involved. He finds himself pitted against a criminal mastermind of sorts, and a hive of henchmen that occupy a nightclub, a yacht, and a hideout in Casablanca's old quarter. Constantine deals with all comers by applying the time-honored advice: when in doubt, punch them out.
Film buffs the world over associate Casablanca with the Humphrey Bogart film of the same name, but the city you see here is different from the one made famous by Bogart and Co. ten years earlier. The Casablanca of this film is a maze of L.A.-style roads, white skyscrapers, and an industrial port the size of Long Beach. We checked population figures and learned it was already a major city of more than 500,000 people during the early 1940s, which means that Casablanca's village feel is really just a clever cinematic fantasy. Poison Ivy's Casablanca is real, and the many location shots mixed into the movie prove it.
That's Dominique Wilms on the top poster, and she's the reason we watched the movie. In this, her cinematic debut, she plays a femme fatale named Carlotta de la Rue, which of course indicates that she's a woman from the street. If that isn't enough to warn the men away, her friends call her Poison Ivy. Why? Because she burns. Hopefully that's meant figuratively, and above the waist. A character bringing so much heat must of course perform a torch song, which she sings with detachment, while the lyrics—as they usually do—indicate deeper issues: “I wander with my sorrow, along with my memories, looking for my old joys, which I've seen fade and die.” See? She just wants to be loved, assuming a man isn't thwarted by her acid tongue, that ironic right eyebrow, and the barbed wire encircling her heart.
The movie is certainly watchable, though it's nothing special aside from its exotic setting. But you have to appreciate the French love for U.S. crime fiction. In fact, director Bernard Borderie got the band back together and cast Constantine, Wilms, and her prehensile eyebrow in the next Caution movie, 1954's Les femmes s'en balancent. Constantine and Wilms also co-starred in 1957's Le grand bluff, another Caution adaptation, but helmed by Patrice Dally. Constantine went on to make Caution the signature character of his career. Wilms, who at age ninety is still out there somewhere, had about a dozen more roles before leaving cinema behind, but we think she had “it,” and will definitely check out some of her other work.
If you were framed for murder you'd be pissed too.
These posters for They Made Me a Killer are about as nice as you'll find from the mid-century period. They're both framable classics, so it may come as a surprise to know the film is a bottom budget b-noir, only sixty-four minutes long, and streamlined in plot. Basically, Robert Lowery, who soups up cars for a living, gets suckered by a femme fatale into driving getaway for a bank robbery. He's literally hijacked. Bank guards die, and a witness is shot. When Lowery is eventually left behind, the cops pick him up and he tries to explain that he's a patsy, but they don't believe him. This leads to an astonishing sequence. Lowery convinces the cops to take him to the hospital, where the fact that he had nothing to do with the robbery can be confirmed by a critically wounded witness. But the witness is barely hanging on and is unable to speak at all. Lowery decides to escape and upends the hospital bed onto the cops‚ critically injured occupant and all. He hadn't killed the bank guards, but the guy in the hospital bed surely couldn't have survived being dumped on the floor. It's weird and kind of funny, but the scene does let us know the hero's motivations for finding the robbers may not be as simple as merely clearing his name. You have time to kill? This lightweight thriller is fine. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.
And at this rate it looks like they'll outlast us all.
Is it one of the greatest allegorical science fiction films ever made? Well, sci-fi is conducive to metaphor, so the list of contenders is long, but certainly John Carpenter's They Live is somewhere in the mix. You see its Japanese poster above. The film invaded Japan today in 1989, after premiering in the U.S. during November of the previous year. We suspect this one falls into the category of movies many have been told they should see, but few have bothered to make the time for. We're here to suggest that you make the time. The premise is ingenious—Earth's ruling class are actually aliens in human form. What do these offworld one-percenters want? Mainly for humans to obliviously embrace behavior that is beneficial to the maintenance of elite power. To that end the everyday world people see is a mere curtain over a deeper reality totally geared toward making humans obey, consume, conform, and reproduce.
Carpenter said about the film, which is based on the 1963 short story, “Eight O'Clock in the Morning,” by Ray Nelson, “The picture's premise is that [our current economic system] is run by aliens from another galaxy. Free enterprisers from outer space have taken over the world, and are exploiting Earth as if it's a third world planet. And as soon as they exhaust all our resources, they'll move on to another world.” The idea is certainly poignant in this age of inequality, low wage employment, population explosion, environmental ruin, and all-powerful international corporate overlords that somehow are regarded by U.S. courts as “people.”
The aliens of They Live, not unlike corporations, want to go unchallenged while they suck the planet dry. But Roddy Piper, playing a drifter passing through Los Angeles, happens upon a small resistance who have made special sunglasses that penetrate the disguise laid over the world. When he dons these glasses his mind is simply blown by what they reveal. Even the money people work so hard for is nothing more than plain white paper bearing the message: “This is your god.” Carpenter builds the drama of They Live slowly, and plays it for laughs on multiple occasions, but the sense of dread mounts as Piper and co-star Keith David realize the illusions that maintain order are broadcast from a massive fleet of hovering drones, and if they don't expose the truth perhaps nobody will.
We've seen They Live several times, and loved it more on each occasion. Generally, people who don't like it find it too slow, which is ironic considering it's a film that suggests people are deliberately being prevented from taking the crucial time needed to see what's real and what isn't. They Live makes us imagine what would happen if aliens really did arrive on Earth. Most likely they would be sifting through the ruins of what was once here, and they'd say, “This strange species had diverse art that often discussed hostile alien invasions, but it appears they didn't realize the thing that would destroy them was already here—it was their own economics.”
McGinnis sells sea tale with a seashore.
West German publishing company Heyne Bücher makes good use of art by Robert McGinnis on the cover of Der Flamingo Mörder, which was a translation of Charles Williams' 1958 novel The Concrete Flamingo, aka All the Way. This beachy painting originally appeared in Argosy in April 1961 as an illustration for Ed Lacy's story "The Naked Blanco,” but it's a perfect match for Williams, who became a gifted crafter of oceangoing thrillers, among them Dead Calm, And the Deep Blue Sea, Scorpion Reef, and Aground. And yes, we know, by the way, that technically (not even technically, but actually) a fowl is a bird domesticated for its eggs, which flamingos aren't, but you try thinking up headers for these posts for eleven straight years. Anyway, the entire McGinnis painting from which the cover art was borrowed is below. And as always you can learn more about everyone involved by clicking their keywords at bottom.
One Wong makes everything right.
This fun poster was made for the 1978 action flick Cleopatra Wong, aka They Call Her...Cleopatra Wong, and it's signed by someone named Eddie Damer. We can find zero information about Mr. Damer, which we like to think is because he moved into another career after being paid for his artistry in handshakes, backslaps, and a rubber check. Which is to say, Cleopatra Wong is a not a b-movie, but z-movie, a riff on the blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones. It was put together by Filipino producer Bobby A. Suarez and made in English with Singaporean actress Marrie Lee in the lead role as an Interpol agent tasked with busting an international counterfeiting ring. These counterfeiters are bad people. They're centered in a Hong Kong nunnery, where they're forcing the nuns to host the operation, and plan to kill them when they've outlived their usefulness. Only Wong and her intrepid team can stop these fiends. There are some positives here, including effective location shooting and Lee's kung fu, but there's also clunky direction, atrocious acting, and a script that must have been written on a typewriter with seven missing keys. The movie sank with barely a ripple upon release, but was revived on the Asian festival circuit in the early 2000s and now is considered a schlock classic. It certainly has all the hallmarks, and overall we think it's worth watching, but you may want to soak your frontal cortex in alcohol beforehand. Cleopatra Wong premiered in Singapore this month in 1978.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1954—Murrow Blasts McCarthy
In an event that would mark a turning point in American history, newsman Edward R. Murrow blasts anti-communist Senator Joseph McCarthy on a nighttime news show called See It Now. The broadcast used mainly McCarthy's own words to make its case that the senator had abused his position and perverted the rule of law, and, despite McCarthy's power, America agreed, as response to the episode ran 15 to 1 in favor of Murrow.
1959—Barbie Doll Debuts
The Barbie fashion doll, manufactured by the American toy-company Mattel after being designed by Ruth Handler, debuts in U.S. stores. Barbie, whose full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts, was inspired by a German doll called Bild Lilli, and has sold in the hundreds of millions.
1978—Hitchhiker's Guide Debuts
The first radio episode of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, written by British humorist Douglas Adams, is transmitted on BBC Radio 4. The series becomes a huge success, and is adapted into stage shows, a series of books, a 1981 television series, and a 1984 computer game.
1999—The Yankee Clipper Dies
Baseball player Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, Jr., who while playing for the New York Yankees would become world famous as Joe DiMaggio, dies at age 84 six months after surgery for lung cancer. He led the Yankees to wins in nine World Series during his thirteen year career and his fifty-six game hitting streak is considered one of baseball's unbreakable records. Yet for all his sports achievements, he is probably as remembered for his stormy one-year marriage to film icon Marilyn Monroe.
1975—Lesley Whittle Is Found Strangled
In England kidnapped heiress Lesley Whittle, who had been missing for fifty-two days, is found strangled at the bottom of a drain shaft at Kidsgrove in Staffordshire. Her killer was Donald Neilson, aka the Black Panther, a builder from Bradford. He was convicted of the murder and given five life sentences in June 1976.
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